Tag Archives: Sixth Amendment

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/15/2018: Alito Gets One Right, Ellison Deceived, And An Ancient, Unethical Tactic Works Once Again…

To a glorious morning, Ethics-Lovers!

1. Bad Alito, Good Alito.  As I briefly noted yesterday (and hopefully will do in detail today), Justice Alito authored an unethical and embarrassing dissent defending a lawyer who deliberately betrayed his client by telling the jury that he had killed someone his client denied killing. Bad Alito. However, the arch-conservative jurist also authored the majority opinion in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, in which the SCOTUS majority struck down a virtuous but unconstitutional law, and did so clearly and well.

These are, I think, my favorite Supreme Court opinions, where the Court ignores the motives and objectives of a law and simply rules whether the legislature is allowed to behave like that. I don’t know, but I would guess that most of the majority feel the way I do about organized sports gambling: nothing good can come of it, and a lot of harm is inevitable. One they get the green light, I’m sure that as many states will take over sports gambling for its easy revenue as now prey on its poor, desperate and stupid with their state lottery scams. Everyone involved–sports, fans, athletes, states, the public’s ethical compass—is going to be corrupted by letting the sports betting genie out of its bottle: just watch.

Nevertheless, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992  law known as PASPA, should have been struck down decades ago; I’d love to know why it took so long. No, it did NOT ban sports betting, though this is what far too many news reports tell you. Congress can ban sports betting directly if it chooses to, as it is interstate commerce. This isn’t in dispute. What it did in 1992, however, was to order states not to pass laws states have a constitutional right to pass. The distinction matters. From SCOTUS Blog, which is usually the best source for analysis of these things:

The 10th Amendment provides that, if the Constitution does not either give a power to the federal government or take that power away from the states, that power is reserved for the states or the people themselves. The Supreme Court has long interpreted this provision to bar the federal government from “commandeering” the states to enforce federal laws or policies. [The] justices ruled that a federal law that bars states from legalizing sports betting violates the anti-commandeering doctrine…

…In a decision by Justice Samuel Alito, the court began by explaining that the “anticommandeering doctrine may sound arcane, but it is simply the expression of a fundamental structural decision incorporated into the Constitution” – “the decision to withhold from Congress the power to issue orders directly to the States.” And that, the majority continued, is exactly the problem with the provision of PASPA that the state challenged, which bars states from authorizing sports gambling: It “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do.” “It is as if,” the majority suggested, “federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty,” Alito concluded, “is not easy to imagine.”

…The court also rejected the argument, made by the leagues and the federal government, that the PASPA provision barring states from authorizing sports betting does not “commandeer” the states, but instead merely supersedes any state laws that conflict with the provision – a legal doctrine known as pre-emption. Pre-emption, the majority explained, “is based on a federal law that regulates the conduct of private actors,” but here “there is simply no way to understand the provision prohibiting state authorization as anything other than a direct command to the States,” which “is exactly what the anticommandeering rule does not allow.”

Got it.

Good decision. Continue reading

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McCoy v. Louisiana

Today the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Robert LeRoy McCoy, who was convicted of three counts of murder after his lawyer refused to follow his instruction and plead not guilty as he directed. I had predicted that his convictions would be over-ruled; I also wrote,

“If the Supreme Court does anything but overrule Louisiana in this case by a 9-0 vote, I may turn in my law license in exchange for a free Whopper at Burger King.”

Well, the vote wasn’t 9-0. I think instead of turning in my license, I’m going to turn in my respect for the so-called conservative wing of the Court. The majority opinion was authored by Justice Ginsberg, with Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, Roberts, and Kennedy concurring. Two of the conservatives concurred in a dissent authored by Alito: Gorsuch and thomas.

I haven’t had time to read it as carefully as I have to to do a thorough analysis, but I read it well enough to flag it as an embarrassing collection of rationalizations. While the majority opinion interprets a straightforward case according to what is significant about it—a lawyer pleaded guilty for him when his client demanded that he plead non guilty, thus making the conclusion unavoidable, Alito resorts to desperate excuses. Well, this kind of case isn’t likely to happen again. So what? A man was robbed of his Sixth Amendment rights! His story was ridiculous. So what? If that’s his story, he has the right to tell it. The lawyer was placed in a tough situation by a client whose claims were unbelievable. The jury decides who to believe, and a defendant has the right to let them do that. McCoy’s lawyer didn’t believe him. So what? Welcome to criminal defense work. McCoy was going to be convicted anyway.

What????

I can’t believe a Supreme Court Justice is making these arguments. So what? The principle of the rule of law is that it is vital that the defendant, if he is convicted, is convicted the right way, constitutionally. The conduct of McCoy’s lawyer was indefensible under the ethics rules, and the Constitution.

Reading the whole opinion and the dissent is revealing, and not in a good way. The majority opinion shows us that the Supreme Court can’t say the sky is blue without making the case in the mots turgid way possible. This opinion should have been a few pages at most.

The dissent lets us know that Justices Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas look for minuscule fragments of justifications to avoid doing the right thing.

 

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Now THIS Is An Unethical Judge!

I don’t know what’s happening to judges’ judgment  lately, but it’s not good.

Texas State District Judge George Gallagher was annoyed by defendant Terry Lee Morris’s refusal to answer his questions and making various statements himself, so he ordered that Morris have a stun belt strapped around his legs. From the Appeals Court opinion:

“Mr. Morris, I am giving you one warning,” Gallagher told Morris outside the presence of the jury. “You will not make any additional outbursts like that, because two things will happen. Number 1, I will either remove you from the courtroom or I will use the shock belt on you.”

“All right, sir,” Morris said.

The judge continued: “Now, are you going to follow the rules?”

“Sir, I’ve asked you to recuse yourself,” said Morris.

Gallagher asked again: “Are you going to follow the rules?”

“I have a lawsuit pending against you,” responded Morris.

“Hit him,” Gallagher said to the bailiff.

The bailiff pressed the button that shocks Morris, and then Gallagher asked him again whether he is going to behave. Morris told Gallagher he had a history of mental illness.

“Hit him again,” the judge ordered.

Morris protested that he was being “tortured” just for seeking the recusal.

Gallagher asked the bailiff, “Would you hit him again?”

Each “hit” sent an eight-second, 50,000-volt shock into Morris. Judge Gallagher had Morris shocked three times. It terrified Morris sufficiently that he didn’t return for the remainder of his trial and missed almost all of his sentencing hearing. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “What Do You Get When You Add Anti-Gun Bias To Constitutional Ignorance To Anti-Trump Bias To Incompetent Journalism? THIS…”

Chris Marschner’s epic Comment of the Day arrived at 11:14 pm last night. My immediate reaction was that it validated all of the toil and time I have put into this blog since it was launched in 2009. I know I have indulged myself more than is professionally admirable of late, complaining about the traffic here, the lack of broader web circulation of essays that I believe are important and objectively superior to commentary elsewhere that routinely gets hundreds of thousands of clicks, likes and shares. In my lore rational moments I also know that, as Hymen Roth once pulled me aside and reminded me, “Jack, you idiot, this is the life you have chosen!” This is ethics. Most people don’t want to read about or think about ethics, and most people are bad at it and don’t want to get better. I make much of my living teaching ethics to lawyers who admit to me that if they didn’t have to get ethics credits to keep their licenses, they would rather be locked in a room with Slim Whitman recordings being blasted at them than sit through an ethics seminar.

Chris’s essay— “essay” doesn’t do it justice; perhaps “opus”–reminded me of what I set out to do here from the beginning, which was to create an online colloquy about applied ethics and ethics analysis, using events, issues, episodes and dilemmas from every aspect of our culture, national experience and daily life. As the 9th full year of Ethics Alarms begins, I can see that we have attracted, beyond the readership, which of course is hard to analyze, a remarkable, diverse, dedicated and passionate group of regular commentators whose output in the discussions and debates following the posts is the best it has ever been and getting better. I could not be more proud of that. I also complain about lost commenters, the many, many once regular and valued participants here who have fallen away, often without explanation. ( Spike Jones: Mary–“Bon soir, John. Prosit. Auf wiedersehen. Au revoir. Adios. Aloha.” John:  How do you like that? She didn’t even say ‘goodbye’! ) But this is the regular cycle of any blog; I know it. I just get attached to the faceless people I interact with daily, and take their exits personally, forgetting that lives and priorities change, and that I, too, am just a distant voice, who could, after all, be a dog.

I read many websites and blogs, and with the possible exception of the original Volokh Conspiracy before it moved to the Washington Post, no site’s comments approach the routine excellence I see here, in content, seriousness, and original thought. So you know just how excellent Chris’s comment is, when I say that it is among the very best that has been posted on Ethics Alarms.

Here is Chris Marschner’s Comment of the Day on the post,  What Do You Get When You Add Anti-Gun Bias To Constitutional Ignorance To Anti-Trump Bias To Incompetent Journalism? THIS…”

I suggest that you keep this link handy as you read it.

I wrote this for anyone willing to listen. Continue reading

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Wait, WHAT? I Don’t Understand This Case At All: The Louisiana Lawyer’s Betrayal

Robert McCoy (above), facing trial for a triple murder in Louisiana, told his lawyer, Larry English, that he was innocent. Someone else had killed the victims, he insisted. English, however, knew better. He wasn’t buying any of it.

“I met with Robert at the courthouse and explained to him that I intended to concede that he had killed the three victims,” Mr. English stated in a sworn statement. “Robert was furious and it was a very intense meeting. He told me not to make that concession, but I told him that I was going to do so….I know that Robert was completely opposed to me telling the jury that he was guilty of killing the three victims,” Mr. English said. “But I believed that this was the only way to save his life.”

English’s theory was that in the state’s two-phase trail system, he would lose credibility with the jury if he insisted McCoy was wrongly charged in the face of overwhelming evidence He wanted to have the trust of the jurors in the second phase, when he would have to argue that they should spare Mr. McCoy’s life.

After the meeting, Mr. McCoy tried to fire his lawyer, saying he would rather represent himself—So would I— but Judge Jeff Cox refused to let English off the case. So, as promised, English told the jury during his opening statement that his client was a triple murderer. McCoy objected in court, protesting, “I did not murder my family, your honor ! I had alibis of me being out of state. Your honor, this is unconstitutional for you to keep an attorney on my case when this attorney is completely selling me out.”

The objection was over-ruled.  McCoy’s lawyer, the judge apparently believed, knew better than his client what his client’s best interests were.

He didn’t though. McCoy was convicted and sentenced to death despite all of that supposed good will, credibility and trust English had built up by throwing his own client under the criminal justice bus.  The victim of this Bizarro World representation appealed the conviction to the Louisiana Supreme Court, saying his lawyer had turned on him. The court ruled against him,  holding that

“Given the circumstances of this crime and the overwhelming evidence incriminating the defendant admitting guilt in an attempt to avoid the imposition of the death penalty appears to constitute reasonable trial strategy.”

Now the United States Supreme Court is going to consider the case, McCoy v. Louisiana, and the question of whether a lawyer who disregards a client’s explicit instruction to plead not guilty has breached the Constitutional right to counsel.

I am stunned.  What question? Apparently this is a thing in Louisiana. “Counsel’s strategic choices should not be impeded by a rigid blanket rule demanding the defendant’s consent,” Louisiana’s lawyers  wrote in a brief urging the court to pass on the case. Since 2000, the Louisiana Supreme Court has allowed defense lawyers to concede their clients’ guilt in four other capital cases over the clients’ express objections.

Good grief. Continue reading

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Reminder: Hateful Racist Mass Murderers Have The Same Rights You Do

Dylann Roof, the white supremacist sentenced to death after killing nine black church members as an attempt to start a race war, asked a court to replace his appointed appellate lawyers because they “are my political and biological enemies.” The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied his request.

Roof’s pro se motion stated that his lawyers, Alexandra Yates and Sapna Mirchandani, “are Jewish and Indian, respectively. It is therefore quite literally impossible that they and I could have the same interests relating to my case.”  Roof had difficulties on the same basis with his court-appointed lawyer, David Bruck, during his trial. The murderer wrote  in his motion that Bruck is Jewish and “his ethnicity was a constant source of conflict even with my constant efforts to look past it.”

I have been shocked at the reaction of the legal profession, the news media and the public to the 4th Circuit’s ruling. It really does appear that all the education in the world, ethics rules, principles and the Constitution will still be steamrolled by hate and emotion, even when crucial, indeed existential values for our society are at stake. My trust and respect for all professions—all of them—have been grievously reduced by their conduct and ethics blindness over that past several months. No wonder the First Amendment is under attack. No wonder our institutions are being weakened to the point of collapse.

The public literally  not understand the principle I am going to explain now. Apparently naively, I thought lawyers, judges and law professors did. In the interest of clarity, I am going to do this in short, straightforward segments.

I. The Court’s ruling is not just wrong, but frighteningly wrong.

Roof, like all citizens accused of a crime, has a right to a competent, zealous legal defense. A  competent, zealous legal defense requires that the defendant be able to participate fully in that defense. If a defendant does not or cannot trust his lawyers, he cannot be assured of a competent, zealous legal defense.

II. A client has to trust his lawyer.

It doesn’t matter why a client doesn’t trust his lawyer, and the lawyer need not agree that the lack of trust is warranted. The question is whether a lawyer who is not trusted by his client can do an adequate job representing him. The answer is no. The Sixth Amendment, which guarantees a fair trial and legal representation in criminal cases, is not there for the lawyers, or courts, or government. It exits to protect the accused—all accused.

In a famous medical ethics case, an elderly Korean man in a hospital wanted his doctors, specialists in his malady, replaced because they were Japanese-Americans, and as a survivor of the horrors Japan inflicted on Korea, he was convinced that they would kill him. The hospital ethics committee held that he was an irrational bigot, and that he either had to accept the qualified physicians despite their race, or get out. The AMA disagreed. It said that the patient’s welfare is paramount in medical ethics, and a patient who does not trust his doctors—the reason doesn’t matter—will have his welfare and health endangered as a result.

The same principle should apply to Roof. A client who does not trust his lawyer will not, for example, be candid with him, or trust him to keep confidences.

Under the circumstances Roof described, the lawyers have an ethical obligation to withdraw. Two rules are involved:

Client-Lawyer Relationship
Rule 1.7 Conflict Of Interest: Current Clients

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if:

(1) the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client; or

(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer.

(b) Notwithstanding the existence of a concurrent conflict of interest under paragraph (a), a lawyer may represent a client if:

(1) the lawyer reasonably believes that the lawyer will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client;

(2) the representation is not prohibited by law;

(3) the representation does not involve the assertion of a claim by one client against another client represented by the lawyer in the same litigation or other proceeding before a tribunal; and

(4) each affected client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing. Continue reading

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President Barack Obama Has Appointed A Zealous And Competent Civil Rights Lawyer To the U.S. Commission On Civil Rights, And There Isn’t A Thing Wrong With That.

Perry Mason would have defended Mumia Abu-Jamal...

Perry Mason would have defended Mumia Abu-Jamal…

President Barack Obama has appointed Debo Adegbile,  who had served as an former attorney for convicted controversial police-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, to a six-year post on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The eight-member commission consists of four members appointed by the president and four appointed by Congress.

Adegbile worked at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund when he represented Abu-Jamal in the appeal of his conviction and death sentence for the  1981 shooting death of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal’s sentence was reduced to life in prison. Predictably, rightish-commentators and of course police groups are highly critical of the appointment, just as they were in 2014 when they and others convinced the Senate to reject Obama’s nomination of  Adegbile to lead the Justice Department’s Office on Civil Rights. Ethics Alarms noted then, in the post, The Right’s Unethical, Ignorant, Un-American And Dangerous Attack On Debo Adegbile,

“It says nothing of Debo Adegbile’s fitness as a public servant that he represented a convicted cop killer, a cannibal, Son of Sam, Spiro Agnew or Willie Sutton. It simply says that he is a lawyer, and one who embraces the traditional ethics and aspirations of the profession. Abraham Lincoln won fame getting an acquittal for a friend whom Lincoln knew was guilty of murder, but the prosecution didn’t have the evidence to prove it. Good. Does this mean he was pro-murder? Clarence Darrow used his extraordinary persuasive power to stop over a hundred men accused of murder—most of them guilty, some of them certifiable monsters— from being executed. Good. They were citizens, they had as much a right to use the laws that offered them protection as the government had to use other laws to threaten their lives and freedom. Was Darrow a fan of killers? No, he was fan of making sure ordinary people weren’t crushed by laws and systems they could never understand, use or survive without the help of a lawyer, in his case, the greatest lawyer of them all…. The principle [critics of Adegbile’s defense of Abu-Jamal] are advocating… is a sinister one, where lawyers rather than judges or juries pass premature judgment on the claims and needs of citizens, and withhold competent access to legal remedies according the their personal assessments regarding the validity of a citizen’s motives. This, of course, gives unacceptable power to lawyers, making it their choice who gets the protections of our justice system and who does not. The danger of this contention cannot be understated….let’s remind all the conservatives using this irresponsible tactic where it leads. It leads directly to citizens being slaves to their own nations’ laws, because they can’t possibly access them on their own, with lawyers deciding who is worthy of being able to take advantage of our “inalienable” rights, and who has the “privilege” of legal representation.”

Continue reading

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