Now THAT’S An Unethical Judge!

But perhaps a potential Democratic Presidential candidate…or Virginia Lieutenant Governor maybe?

Judge Scott Gallina of Asotin County in Washington was arrested at the courthouse last week and charged with second-degree rape. He was also charged with fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation and indecent liberties, as described by  a press release by Washington’s attorney general.

Eleven women claim that Gallina subjected them to varying degrees of sexual misconduct including unwanted touching and inappropriate comments. The  women even adopted a buddy system so that no one would risk being alone with the judge in his chambers.

The rape charge involves a woman who  told investigators that she didn’t report Gallina’s alleged conduct  because she  feared she wouldn’t be believed. She did complain to Judge Gallina, who said he “could not help it because he liked beautiful women.”

And it gets creepier. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/3/2019: “Thing’s Are Seldom What They Seem…”

Good afternoon!

1. Today’s source of maximum irritation. Remember those California wildfires at the end of last year that the news media kept reporting as proof of climate change and that prompted Democrats and talking heads to sneer in disdain at anyone, especially President Trump, who suggested that electrical equipment just might have been the cause? From NPR:

Pacific Gas and Electric says it’s “probable” that its equipment caused the Camp Fire in Northern California, the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history.

California has not finished its investigation into PG&E’s culpability in last November’s fire that killed at least 85 people, destroyed about 14,000 structures, displacing tens of thousands of people and destroying the town of Paradise. However, the state’s largest utility, which filed for bankruptcy last month, said Thursday it expects the investigation will find that its damaged infrastructure sparked the fire.

Please let Ethics Alarms know how many of the news shows this morning mention this development.

2. Spring Training ethics note: Good news! Ethics Alarms has been campaigning for robo-umps at home plate to call balls and strikes for several years. Now MLB announces that it has finalized a three-year deal with the independent Atlantic League to have the league test rules innovations and equipment for the Show. This will include computer calling of pitches. Not so good news: it will also reportedly include moving the mound back, which is heresy.

3. Concern for Popehat’s Ken White.  There is not a smarter, more passionate, better blogger on the planet than lawyer Ken White, and while we have had our disagreements, his commentary on law and justice especially is a blessing for all Americans, even though most don’t have the sense to benefit from it. One of many reasons I admire Ken is that he has been candid about his battle with depression, a killer illness that too many people don’t understand. That malady runs in my family (or as Mortimer Brewster says in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Runs? It practically gallups!”), and has been responsible for more than one suicide. Popehat once was a collective, but now it’s almost entirely Ken, with occasional drop-ins from the acerbic Mark Randazza. The blog’s last entry was January 4, almost two months. I’m worried, as are most of Ken’s fans I’m sure, and I am officially sending Ethics Alarms best wishes and love to one of the really good people in multiple roles: lawyer, blogger, public educator. Get back as soon as you can, Ken. We need you. Continue reading

One More Time, The Second Accuser Scenario, And Fairness For Justin Fairfax

From the Washington Post today:

“A Maryland woman said Friday she was raped by Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) in a “premeditated and aggressive” assault in 2000, while they both were undergraduate students at Duke University. She is the second woman this week to make an accusation of sexual assault.

The woman, Meredith Watson, said Friday in a written statement through her attorney that she shared her account immediately after it happened with several classmates and friends. Watson did not speak publicly Friday and her lawyer did not make her available for an interview.

Watson was friends with Fairfax at Duke but they never dated or had any romantic relationship, the lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, said.

“At this time, Ms. Watson is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character,” Smith said in the statement . “She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life. Similarly, she is not seeking any financial damages.”

Now what?

An unrelated accusation of conduct X does not mean that a previous unsubstantiated accusation of the same conduct is true. However…

  • In the case of habitual or characteristic misconduct—like being a sexual predator or a sexual harasser—the likelihood that there have been more, undisclosed episodes involving the individual accused is high.
  • Thus the absence of a credible second (or third, fourth, and onward) accuser in a matter like this is legitimate evidence arguing for the innocence of the accused. An example would be Clarence Thomas.
  • When subsequent allegations are substantially similar to the original accusation, they are especially damning. Bill Cosby is the poster case for this variation. Another exampole: Kevin Spacey.
  • When the second and additional allegations are suspiciously timed, as during an election or a political controversy, when they involve general misconduct only, lack named accusers or when they are sketchy in their facts and proof, they should be regarded with extreme skepticism. The add-on Kavanaugh accusations fit this description.
  • The fact that a court decision or an official investigation has not definitively determined that misconduct has taken place does not require individuals, groups and the public to discard commons sense, if they can eliminate bias from their decision-making. O.J. Simpson, it is fair to say,  is guilty of murder, and it is completely fair to regard him in that light. Barry Bonds used banned and illegal drugs to enhance his major league baseball career. Harvey Weinstein is a sexual predator who traded professional advancement for sex. We don’t need admissions here to come to informed decisions.

Now what does all of this mean for Justin Fairfax, next in line to be Governor of Virginia if Governor Northam decides, as an honorable public servant should, that he has made such an irredeemable ass of himself by his obfuscations, double-back flips, and tap-dancing around the question of whether he had a photo of himself in blackface in his yearbook that no Virginian in his or her right mind could possibly feel secure trusting such a boob to handle the affairs of the Commonwealth? What is fair? Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Vegetative Rape Victim

In Phoenix, Arizona,  a 29-year-old female patient who has been a vegetative state for more than a decade at Hacienda Healthcare center gave birth to a healthy baby boy.  The staff had no idea she was pregnant until she went into labor and gave birth on December 29th. She had an apparently been raped several times.

Family members for the woman  have declined to give a public statement, but their attorney told Huffington Post,”The family obviously is outraged, traumatized and in shock by the abuse and neglect of their daughter at Hacienda Healthcare. … [They] would like me to convey that the baby boy has been born into a loving family and will be well cared for.”

Coming so soon after the post here about the ethics issues surrounding the death old a fetus, this news story prompted several readers to inquire here. Some observations: Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/30/2018: A Petition, A Career-Killing Joke, And Priestley’s Play [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

1. One more time...I’m really going to try to get a year-end ethics review up for 2018. In both of the last two years, I failed miserably, and The Ethics Alarms Best and Worst of Ethics Awards never posted. It is a very time-intensive exercise, and the traffic for the posts have never been substantially more than an average entry that is a tenth as long.

We shall see.

2. The Bad Guys, Redux. It’s a problem: one wants to curb the trend of demonizing political adversaries, and yet we keep seeing escalating examples of unequivocally despicable behavior that deserves to be demonized, because it is constant, self-righteous, and indefensible.

Over at GoFundMe, someone named Brian Kolfage, has posted a petition and a crowd-funding effort to pay for “the wall” if Congress won’t. He writes, “I have a verified blue check Facebook page as a public figure and I’m a Purple Heart Recipient triple amputee veteran.”

This is not encouraging. [Correction notice: I originally wrote “Facebook does not use a “blue check,” though Twitter and Instagram do, (and abuse it.)” I checked this, but my source was wrong. Facebook does give public figures “blue checks.”] I guess Kolfage is sort of a public figure. He is also a controversial one who has pushed extreme right-wing conspiracy theories. When asked why he doesn’t mention any of his controversial crusades and advocacy in promoting his crowdfunding effort, he has responded, “My personal issues have nothing to do with building the wall.” Fine: what do his war wounds have to do with building a wall?

Never mind: the appeal has raised over 18 million dollars to date, although the contributions have slowed considerably. It’s a futile effort; I suppose it has some value to show public support for enforcing immigration laws. If people want to donate their money to such a cause, it’s their money to give, though they might as well be making little green paper airplanes out of hundred dollar bills and sailing them into the wind.

Megan Fox reports, however, that someone who wants to punish anyone who doesn’t support open borders is taking names and doxxing contributors. She writes,

Did you donate money to the GoFundMe page to build the border wall? If you did, there’s a good chance this guy/gal or otherkin has doxxed your Facebook profile to millions of other nasty trolls who will now make it their business to harass and punish you with anonymous online mobs. Get ready, because your life is about to get more interesting. Based on my personal experience, once these monsters get your information and the directive to destroy you, the death threats, vandalism, obscene pornography, and harassment at work are not far behind. And the worst part is, no one will help you — not the police or the FBI or anyone else whose job it should be to stop intimidation and harassment.

Nice. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz Of The Day: What’s None Of Harvard’s Business?

Now we own you.

Boy, Harvard is getting like the Candyman (no, not Willy Wonka, the horror movie version): mention its name enough times, and it appears behind you, with mayhem on its mind.

A case filed in federal court by a Harvard University student, “John Doe,” argues that the school overstepped  its authority by investigating him for a rape allegation lodged by a non-student in a city where police declined to prosecute. He contends that Harvard did not have the authority to open an investigation into sexual assault allegations levied by a non-Harvard student regarding an incident that did not take place on University property. “Doe” demands that Harvard end the investigation and pay him $75,000 in damages, as well as compensate him for any costs incurred during litigation.

Doe’s suit states that, during summer 2017, Doe and “Jane Roe” ( the unnamed woman he allegedly raped) were both working internships in Washington, D.C. The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department investigated the alleged assault but ultimately decided not to prosecute the case. “Roe” has filed a civil suit against the Harvard student.

The University’s Office for Dispute Resolution opened an investigation into Doe in October 2018

Harvard University’s policies related to sexual and gender-based misconduct, readable here, apply only to misconduct perpetrated by students while on campus or in connection with University-recognized activities. The  guidelines followed by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences are more expansive, as it states that the school  may hold all students to the expectation that they behave in a “in a mature and responsible manner” no matter where they are.

“It is the expectation of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences that all students, whether or not they are on campus or are currently enrolled in a degree program, will behave in a mature and responsible manner. Consistent with this principle, sexual and gender-based misconduct are not tolerated by the FAS even when, because they do not have the effect of creating a hostile environment for a member of the University community, they fall outside the jurisdiction of the University Policy.”

Whatever that means.

Meanwhile, new Title IX guidelines proposed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and released by the department last month stipulate that schools are not required to open investigations into alleged acts of sexual misconduct that took place outside the bounds of a school “program or activity.”

Doe’s suit charges Harvard with breach of contract and breach of covenant of faith and fair dealing. In allowing him to attend classes in exchange for “substantial amounts of money,” Harvard created a reasonable expectation that Doe would earn a degree from the school. One possible result of an ODR investigation would be expulsion.

“Harvard has breached, and is breaching, its contractual obligations by subjecting Mr. Doe to a disciplinary process that—in the ways, and for the reasons, set out above—is arbitrary, capricious, malicious, and being conducted in bad faith,” the complaint states. ODR informed Doe that the investigation is based on Roe’s allegations. In an email submitted as an exhibit in the lawsuit,  ODR’s senior investigator wrote that the College Title IX coordinator filed the case, then reached out to Roe to ask her to participate as a complainant in the investigation. Doe asked Harvard to temporarily suspend the investigation pending the results of Roe’s civil suit. Doe stated a simultaneous ODR investigation would have a “serious impact” on his ability to defend himself in the ongoing civil case, according to the complaint.

Harvard, noting that the D.C. police was not going to investigate the allegations, rejected the request.

Let’s put aside the law and Harvard’s policies for now, and stick to ethics.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

“Is it fair for a college to investigate alleged misconduct, including crimes, on the part of student, when the conduct occurs in a different city and local police have declined to take action?”

Continue reading

Analysis: Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s #MeToo Accusations And His Response

Oh, great…the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck is still making stops and picking up passengers. This time the target is Neil deGrasse Tyson who someone, actually several somones, decided was a powerful man too full of himself who needed to be taken down a peg or sixty, and thus he has been accused–Democratic Senators would say “credibly” accused—of two episodes of sexual harassment and one rape. This is no trivial matter for Tyson, whose carefully constructed image as the new Carl Sagan is now in real danger. So is his job, his celebrity, his reputation and perhaps his marriage.

The three accusations belong in two boxes. The two sexual harassment claims may bolster each other, for harassing is an attitude, a habit, and a form of ethics blindness. Real harassers never do it just once. Rape is something else entirely, and, obviously, far more serious, since it is a crime.

Let’s examine each of the accusations, and Tyson’s defense, which he issued in a long Facebook post over the weekend.

Accusation #1:

Workplace Harassment: Hostile work environment and Unwanted sexual advances (2018)

Ashley Watson, who began a job as Dr. Tyson’s assistant on “Cosmos” in the spring, told an interviewer that on one occasion he asked if she would like to come to his home to share a bottle of wine and “unwind for a couple of hours.” She agreed to come in for one glass, she said, believing that they were going to talk about work and her future assignments.

Once in the astronomer’s apartment, she said, he told her that “as human beings, we all need release,” and asked if there were any “releases” she needed.  (Oh-oh!) As she began to leave a while later,  and he asked if she would let her show her  a Native American handshake.” This required clasping their hands together , finding the pulse on the other person’s wrist, and looking into each other’s eyes. (Super Oh-oh, and also “You’ve got to be kidding me.”) She says that it made her uncomfortable, and she broke it off after about 10 seconds.

As she was again trying to leave, she says Dyson commented, “I want you to know that I want to hug you so bad right now, but I know that if I do I’ll just want more.”

Then, the next day, he told her, “You say you want to be a producer, but it’s always going to be an uphill battle for you because you’re too distracting.”

She says told a supervisor ,a line producer,about what had happened, and that she was quitting.. The supervisor, asked Watson if she wanted to file a complaint. She said no. The supervisor suggested she tell her co-workers that she was leaving because of a family emergency, which she did.

Comment: If accurately described, this is slam dunk sexual harassment. The apartment visit is an extension of the workplace. If it is a veiled “date,” Tyson has crossed a line because he is the woman’s supervisor with hiring and firing power. She cannot consent meaningfully. The release comment, depending on the delivery and context, is creepy and plausibly sexual in intent, unless he also said, “Me? I like to watch baseball. How about you?” The “Native American handshake” sounds like a nifty version of the old “shoulder rub.” Now there has been touching, and forced eye-gazing. Ew. The last comment at the apartment  is also a sexual advance, especially in context with the rest.

Tyson’s Explanation: Not good. In his Facebook post,  Tyson described the handshake as one he uses “in appreciation of people with whom I’ve developed new friendships.” He said that at work, Ms. Watson freely offered hugs, which he typically rejected, but that on a few occasions, he “clumsily declared, ‘If I hug you I might just want more.’”

“My intent was to express restrained but genuine affection,” he wrote.

He also wrote that . Watson had come into his office after the incident in his apartment and told him she had been “creeped out.” He said he had “apologized profusely” and that she had accepted the apology.

Comment: Tyson’s defense is essentially “I didn’t mean anything by it, she construed it the wrong way, and anyway, she accepted my apology.” Those are three excuses, none of which carried any weight in sexual harassment cases. It’s what the harasser did, and how the harassed felt about it. His apology and her acceptance of it, even if true, doesn’t undo the event. The encounter and his words  made her uncomfortable working with him, and objectively, anyone can see why. It is also interesting that Tyson doesn’t deny the “release” conversation, or his later comment about her being a distraction.

Since Watson had to leave her job, this episode could justify a lawsuit for sexual harassment.

Accusation #2: Sexual assault (2009)

Continue reading