Ethics Dunce: Slate Editor David Plotz

SlateDavid Plotz, journalist and editor of the on-line culture magazine Slate, takes on the California Supreme Court in an essay in his magazine, harshly criticizing the 7-0 decision yesterday to deny Stephen Glass the opportunity to practice law in the state. Glass has been attempting for almost 20 year to persuade some state that a star journalist who was exposed as a pathological liar is a trustworthy lawyer. Plotz’s attack on the opinion as smug and self-righteous says a lot more about Plotz and his field of journalism than it does about the court. It  exposes the perils of a non-lawyer delving into legal ethics without even a modicum of research. Mostly, the exercise shows how far journalism has fallen, when the editor of a prestigious on-line journalistic enterprise essentially denies the importance of professionalism. “It’s a job,” he concludes about the law, trying to bring lawyers down to the depths of his own, thoroughly debased line of work.

Not that the decision isn’t ripe for criticism, for it is. In particular, the majority reasoning continues the legal field’s strange hypocrisy of applying a far more stringent standard to the character of those trying to get their licenses that it does to those who have proven themselves unworthy of holding them. The District of Columbia, supposedly one of the toughest jurisdiction regarding legal discipline, recently administered a mild reprimand to a Justice Department attorney who had been practicing on a suspended license for more than two decades. John Edwards, whose trail of lies while deceiving his dying wife and devising schemes to hide his pregnant mistress in order to gull the Democratic party into nominating him for President, has managed to avoid any discipline at all despite the fact that his continuing leave to practice law disgraces every lawyer on the planet. And, of course, the very same court Plotz derides now recently delivered the stunning conclusion that a non-citizen who entered the country illegally and engaged in years of lies to remain here is nonetheless fit to be a lawyer. (Naturally, Plotz liked that decision.) None of these are mentioned in the post. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of The Week: The California Supreme Court

stephen_glass

“Glass and the witnesses who supported his application stress his talent in the law and his commitment to the profession, and they argue that he has already paid a high enough price for his misdeeds to warrant admission to the bar. They emphasize his personal redemption, but we must recall that what is at stake is not compassion for Glass, who wishes to advance from being a supervised law clerk to enjoying a license to engage in the practice of law on an independent basis. Given our duty to protect the public and maintain the integrity and high standards of the profession (see Gossage, supra, 23 Cal.4th at p. 1105), our focus is on the applicant‟s moral fitness to practice law. On this record, the applicant failed to carry his heavy burden of establishing his rehabilitation and current fitness.”

—–The California Supreme Court, finally rejecting the application of disgraced journalist Stephen Glass for admission the the California Bar, on the grounds of trustworthiness and poor character.

This should end Glass’s efforts to enter the new profession of law after spectacularly destroying his reputation in his former one, that of star journalist for The New Republic. After he was found to have fabricated more than 40 pieces for the magazine and gone to elaborate efforts to deceive fact-checkers. Stephen Glass  (Whom I first wrote about here) was fired in 1998. Luckily for him, he was already a student at Georgetown Law Center at the time, attending its night school, as he almost certainly would not have been admitted after his public exposure as a serial liar. Glass graduated, and beginning in 2002 commenced on this long,  difficult and ultimately unsuccessful journey to professional redemption, taking and passing multiple bar exams and being rejected, first by New York and now by California.

Upon reflection, Glass may well conclude that lying to the New York Board of Bar Examiners was an especially bad idea. Continue reading

Ethics And “The Rifleman”

If you want to ground your child in basic values and ethics, buying the new DVDs (available next month) with all 168 half-hour episodes of “The Rifleman,” the classic Western TV series, is a good way to start. I’ve been watching episodes recently (they are currently showing on both AMC and Starz), and am struck by how virtually every one has a strong ethics lesson to teach, and teaches it well without interfering with the drama. Most of the TV westerns from the genre’s Golden Age (which had already ended before the demise of “Bonanza,” the last of the great ones) had strong ethical values embedded in their plots, but few made ethics as thematic as the show starring Chuck Connors as a single father, living on the prairie in the 1880s, who used his Winchester rifle the way other cowboys used a pistol, but faster and with more accuracy.  Because Lucas McCain was trying to survive while teaching his young son (played by original Mousekateer Johnny Crawford) how to be a good man and citizen, he was always striving to be a role model while solving the difficult and often dangerous problems that came his way. Unlike many Western heroes, McCain didn’t always get it right, sometimes letting his emotions get the better of him or being unfair or impetuous, and had to undergo an ethical course correction by the end of an episode.

A repeated theme in the show was redemption and trust, as McCain often became the champion of a fallen woman or reformed criminal, or had to rely on an ally with a less than sterling past.  Villains in “The Rifleman” sometimes saw the error of their ways at the last second, committing a noble act before dying or going to jail. And sometimes they didn’t, and got shot with the Winchester. I’m sure that “The Rifleman,” with its gun-happy opening sequence (it presents the rifle as the star of the show as much as Connors) will seem like an unlikely source of ethics to the gun-queasy parents out there, and that is a shame. There is much to learn from “The Rifleman.”

You can watch some episodes of the show herehere and here. The catchy theme music is here; I was surprised to discover that it had lyrics, which by the standards of the generally terrible lyrics of westerns that had songs that were actually sung on a show, aren’t too bad. The best of its endless verses:

                           
THERE IS A MORAL TO HIS EXPLOITS                         

AND HE’S TAUGHT IT TO HIS SON

SPEAK SOFTLY TO YOUR ENEMY

BUT LET HIM SEE YOUR GUN!

Chorus:             

THEY CALL HIM THE RIFLEMAN
THE STRONG, COURAGEOUS RIFLEMAN
A GREAT BIG MOUNTAIN OF A MAN!

 

___________________________________

Sources: Wikipedia, The Rifleman, Chuck Connors,

Ethics Hero: Millikin University

This story sounds like it was dreamed up for joint production of the Lifetime Movie Network and Chiller.

Above: The scene of Wolcott's mothers shooting; below, his father.

Above: The scene of Wolcott’s mothers shooting; below, his father.

Millikin University is a private institution in Decatur, Illinois with approximately 2400 students. It has been thrust into local headlines with the discovery that one of its psychology professors, James St. James, who heads the schools Department of Behavioral Sciences, murdered his parents and his older sister when he was 15. Then he was called James Gordon Wolcott.

He changed his name after being treated in a mental institution, where he was sent after being found not guilty of the crime because he was legally insane at the time of the killings. High from sniffing glue, the brilliant but emotionally disturbed teen grabbed a .22-caliber rifle, walked into the living room and shot his father, then shot his sister and his mother.

Six years after being sent to Rusk State Hospital,  Wolcott emerged apparent cured, and ready to lead a productive life. Ironically, his patricide and his insanity  had greased the way for his rehabilitation: he inherited his parents’ estate and was able to draw a monthly stipend from his father’s pension fund. Changing his name to St. James, he earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a PhD, and became an award-winning professor at Millikin. Professor St. James’ secret was undiscovered until this year. He is now 61. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Reddit Ethics And The Non-Privileged Confession

confessions

Reddit’s OffMyChest forum is promoted as a safe social media site to post confessions and to seek support or advice for very difficult, personal, potentially embarrassing problems. Of course, there is no such thing on the web, and such posts are only as confidential as the forum’s participants are trustworthy.

An 18-year-old poster calling himself Pilot94 unburdened himself about a statutory rape (or two) that he escaped punishment for thanks to some good luck. But the episode obviously still troubled him. He began…

“I’ve never been good at this sort of thing. Never in my life have I fully told the truth to anyone, except my best friend…But there are things I need to say that I’ve never been able to say before. I am purposefully not using a throw away account, I highly doubt anyone I know will find this but if they do, I’m glad you now know… “

He went on to describe his life to date, and how it had begun to spin out of control:

“I basically turned into a drug dealer with my best friend. He took the pills and I sold them. We started to get into trouble with the police. Patrick and I vandalized numerous parks and places around our town. We got caught for that had probation and fines, etc. That didn’t stop the Dynamic Dumbasses though. We picked up charges for shoplifting, under age consumption, speeding, drunk driving, etc. But nobody knew. We were such good liars that we were able to keep it all to ourselves. …We ran from cops all the time and partied, got drunk, got high, and raised hell. I kept dealing drugs and we kept taking them. Somehow we avoided getting charged for that, though we were close multiple times.”

Then came the incident that prompted the post:

“I knew some girls from school (I thought they were 15-16, they ended being 13-14) that I met at a party. One night they called us up and said they were drunk and wanted to have fun. We couldn’t say no. We drove out and picked all 3 of them up. We parked by the neighborhood pool, got in the back of the truck, and started going at it. Everyone had their clothes off, the girls were making out with each other and having sex…After about an hour, we headed back to their house. We were out front when a cop pulled up. Then shit hit the fan. The girls accused us of raping them, getting them drunk and supplying drugs. They revealed their true age to the police…One of the girls was so drunk she had to have her stomach pumped and spend the night in the hospital. [My friend} and I went home with our parents as the police impounded my truck and started a full criminal investigation into what had happened. Apparently all 3 were virgins prior to the night, and only did this because they were drunk. The one with alcohol poisoning also had vaginal tearing, and they performed a rape kit on her. The evidence against us was incredible. I don’t know why we weren’t arrested on the spot…But for some reason, both the lead detective on the case and the chief of police were fired shortly after. We were told we would hear from the new officer in charge of our case, but we never did. I don’t know how or why, but it just disappeared.”

The near disaster prompted a life turnaround, he wrote, that at least so far was a success:

“Needless to say this scared us beyond straight. Going from expecting 10+ years in prison to miraculously being free was incredible. Somehow I straightened my life up and actually graduated with honors from a Top 500 school….I received a full ride Army ROTC scholarship to a prestigious military school to study Russian and International Affairs and eventually receive a commission as an officer. [My friend and I]  both have no idea how or why we were given another chance, but we definitely aren’t going to fuck it up. I know there are stories on here about suicide and other heavy subjects, but this is the most honest I’ve ever been in my life, and it feels amazing. Sorry for making it so long!”

So trusting was the author that he later posted a photo of a scholarship he received from Army Reserve Officer Training Corps to Reddit’s military forum. It included his name, and some Reddit users connected the scholarship, the school, the name and the earlier confession.

And alerted the school.

Now he may be kicked out, and perhaps prosecuted. When he asked on the forum why anyone would do this to him, one Reddit member, perhaps the same one who revealed his secret, wrote…

“You ruined a couple of girls’ childhoods. You make it sound like your a good person now and that you have turned over a new leaf but you never once indicated that you felt any remorse for these people you destroyed. I think you far exaggerate to us and yourself how good of a person you are, and how deserving you are of forgiveness.”

Another wrote:

“He considers drugging and raping 3 14 year olds in the back of his pick up “minor”, he has no remorse for the lives he’s hurt, only that he was caught. He is deserving of no forgiveness until he can show that he actually feels remorse.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz Question is this...

Was reporting him to his school based on his post ethical, or unethical? Continue reading

Should Steroid Users Make Baseball’s All-Star Team? Should Felonious and Hypocritical Ex-Governors Be Elected Comptroller?

Bartolo and Eliot

USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan made what I assume will be a controversial argument that baseball players who have tested positive for steroids at any point in their careers should be permanently banned from being honored with inclusion on baseball’s All-Star teams. This is controversial, because a lot of misguided souls, including sportswriters, think that proven steroid cheats ought to be allowed into baseball’s Hall of Fame, a much greater and more significant career honor. The issue arises because Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon, who last year tested positive for banned PED’s (Performance Enhancing Drugs)and was suspended for 5o days, has been selected for the American League All-Star squad. Brennan writes,

“Colon, and every other performance-enhancing drug user in baseball, should never be allowed to become an All-Star, or win any MLB award. No Cy Young, no MVP, no batting title, no nothing. It doesn’t matter that he was caught and suspended last year, not this year…The bottom line is, you don’t suddenly become a non-cheater once your suspension is over. Colon is 40 years old, yet he’s having his best season in eight years. Where have we heard that before? Even though last year’s illegal testosterone isn’t still in his system, it helped build the body that he is using today…Because Colon and his tainted body are in the All-Star Game, someone like (Tampa Bay pitcher Matt) Moore is not. He has the same record as Colon, 12-3, but with a higher ERA, 3.42 to Colon’s 2.69. We’re presuming, of course, that Moore is not on PEDs, which means his season is more impressive than Colon’s because it isn’t built on a chemical foundation as Colon’s is…It’s a privilege to receive these honors, not a right. They are extras, add-ons, awards to be cheered. They do not belong to the Brauns, A-Rods and Colons of this world. Those players should be given absolutely nothing to celebrate.” Continue reading

The Messy Redemption Dilemma of Greg Hall

Redemption is beautiful. And a lot rarer than we'd like it to be.

Redemption is beautiful. And a lot rarer than we’d like it to be.

Maryland belongs in the elite group of states—Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Alaska, D.C. of course, and a few others—where corruption at the local government level is the status quo, and seemingly will always be so. Thus what could have been a straightforward dilemma regarding the character requirements for public office—does a criminal past render a citizen unfit for appointment?—has been confounded by matters of comparative disqualification. Maryland State Delegate Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George’s County) took money out of her campaign funds to pay for her wedding expenses, and stole $800 from the General Assembly to pay an employee of her law firm. She cut a deal with prosecutors to avoid a trial, and, astoundingly, is arguing that since she thus avoided a “conviction” for a crime, under Maryland law she should be able to continue serving as delegate.

Alston is a current crook. Maryland Democrats decided to designate a past crook as her replacement: Greg Hall, who twenty years ago was a crack dealer, spent time in prison, and barely avoided a murder charge for the death of a thirteen-year-old boy killed in the cross-fire of a gun battle he was engaged in. Only in a state like Maryland would Hall be considered an upgrade over the current occupant of a legislative seat, and Maryland’s Democratic governor, Martin O’Malley, has so far refused to follow his party’s directive and seat Hall. The problem is that under the Maryland Constitution, O’Malley has no choice in the matter: it says that the governor shall appoint whomever the party designates to replace a delegate who has been removed. Now there will be two hearings, one to determine whether Alston is correct that she can remain in office because she hasn’t technically been “convicted” of crimes she has admitted to, and another to determine whether the governor can refuse to appoint a convicted felon to take her place. Continue reading

The Golden Rule Sets Off An Ethics Alarm At Popehat

I posted earlier here about the efforts by lawyers (and bloggers) Marc Randazza and Ken at Popehat to foil the despicable operators of “IsAnybodyDown?” That vile website solicits and uses nude photos of women who have not given permission for them to be posted. It often posts contact information for the women as well, and, as a final touch, promotes an alleged legal service that guarantees that it will get the photos taken down. This is a good bet, since the legal service is operated by the same two men who run the site, though it is very unlikely that the “lawyer” really exists. After Marc and Ken challenged the site, its purveyors launched another one accusing them of secretly working for pornography interests and being funded by the Mob.

These are not, in other words, nice people.

In his most recent post about their ongoing battle, Ken recounted an e-mail exchange with Chance Trahan, who founded and operates  “IsAnybodyDown?”with Craig Brittain. It is an exchange that confirms what one would assume about someone who engages in a business like his. A typical tweet from Chance to Craig reads in part, “You aren’t shit to the world you immoral fuck.” Yet Ken was moved to reflect upon even this individual’s humanity, applying the Golden Rule to and musing about how even the likes of Trahan and Brittain can have redeeming qualities. In doing so he provided as profound and lovely reflection on the ethical process of reciprocity, as well as kindness, fairness, forgiveness and empathy. With Ken’s permission, I present it here. Continue reading

Can a Lying Journalist Be a Trustworthy Lawyer?

Stephen Glass: Would you trust this man?

When New Republic Editor Charles Lane fired Stephen Glass, the infamous journalist for that and other magazines who in 1998 was exposed as having fabricated many articles he had represented as true, he was quoted as saying,  “Glass is a man without honor who operated out of hostility and contempt; he has no place in journalism.”

Now the question is whether such man now has a place in the law.

A petition for review has been filed by the California Commission of Bar Examiners contesting the  State Bar Court’s finding that Glass is now morally fit to practice law. He passed the California bar exam in 2007, but the committee blocked his admission, finding that his previous record of professional dishonesty, though in another profession, showed such a deficiency of character that it disqualified him from legal practice as unfit. Then a hearing judge over-ruled the Commission, and found that Glass had reformed sufficiently to render trustworthy. The opinion was upheld 2-1 by the State Bar Court. Continue reading

The Despicable Nadya Suleman and Ethics Estoppel

Nadya Suleman, a.k.a. Octomom, strikes a dignified pose

From the beginning, the only thing keeping Nadya Suleman from being unequivocally despicable has been the lingering suspicion that she was mentally ill. It might be more than a suspicion, to be fair: having octuplets by artificial insemination when one already has six young children and no viable means of support could be called “proof.”  Now even that malady is an insufficient defense: the issue is settled, and she is despicable beyond redemption. One cannot call her the worst mother on the world, sadly, because every day brings the story of another infant thrown down a laundry chute or left in the care of a six-year-old while mom goes partying or looking for drugs. She may be, however, the worst mother ever to become famous for being a mother.

In the latest issue of InTouch magazine—the rag is one full step down from Us magazine, and one half-step up from The National Enquirer—Suleman confesses that she now reviles her octo-brood. “I hate the babies, they disgust me,’ she says. “My older six are animals, getting more and more out of control, because I have no time to properly discipline them.” Elsewhere in the article she bellyaches about how hard it is being a single, unemployed, narcissistic, absurd, irresponsible mother of fourteen children. “The only way I can cope is to lock myself in the bathroom and cry. Sometimes I sit there for hours and even eat my lunch sitting on the toilet floor. Anything to get peace and quiet,” she laments. Yes, Octomom says she regrets having all the children. Continue reading