Now THIS Is An Unethical Lawyer. Yes, I Am Confident That I’m Not Jumping To Conclusions Here…[CORRECTED]

John Gillespie, a  criminal defense lawyer in Melbourne, Florida, was arrested in a law enforcement sting operation over the weekend  for using his legal practice to recruit young female clients into a prostitution ring that he ran out of his home.

And you thought “Better Call Saul” was disillusioning…

The Orlando Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation found evidence that Gillespie “would initiate women he represented on criminal charges into prostitution or exchange sex acts for legal fees.” A former law firm employee tipped off the agency, explaining that she had helped Gillespie recruit women and girls into sex trafficking. Continue reading

Exploring Double Standards In The 2016 Election, A Hypothetical Thought Experiment For Ethics Alarms Readers


While the news media has been almost totally focused on Donald Trump’s misogyny, alreday well-established long  but somehow decisively important once it was in full display from the video of a private exchange from 11 years ago, revelations about his opponent’s character and modes of operation have also been trickling out into view, and receiving far less attention from either journalists or voters.

They have also exposed many of Clinton’s lies. For example, after posturing about Trump’s birtherism and claiming that his defense that Clinton led the way in 2008 with planting conspiracy theories to otherize Obama, this  ugly email, surfaced from the 2008 Clinton campaign, including John Podesta and Paul Begala on the distribution list. It strongly suggest that an attack on Obama’s religion and citizenship was part of the strategy to defeat him, as well as using his alleged use of illegal drugs and support for gay adoption as ammunition.

The 2013 Goldman-Sachs speeches that Clinton received $675,000 to give to the investment companies have turned up, thanks to Wikileaks. More revealed files from the FBI have cast suspicion on the process whereby Clinton was cleared of criminal misconduct in her irregular handling of official e-mails.

Other documents have indicated that the federal government, “supported by tax dollars,” as the Wall Street Journal puts it, was working as an extension of the Clinton campaign. The State Department seems to have coordinated with her staff to blunt the email scandal, and the Justice Department kept her team informed about developments in the court case.

Clinton’s State Department, as documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show, also facilitated Clinton’s use of her official influence to provide special favors to Clinton Foundation donors. For example, in one  series of 2010 emails, a senior aide to Hillary  Clinton asked a foundation official to let her know which groups offering assistance with the Haitian earthquake relief were “FOB” (Friends of Bill) or “WJC VIPs” (William Jefferson Clinton VIPs).

The leaks show “that the press is in Mrs. Clinton’s pocket,” writes Kimberly Strassle at the WSJ.  Donna Brazile, now DNC chair, sent the exact wording of a CNN town hall question to Hillary ahead of a scheduled debate.  Other journalists gave the Clinton campaign the power to veto which quotes were used from interviews, helped facilitate press events, and offered advice to her campaign.

Less surprising but arguably more damaging if the average voter knew, the various leaks, e-mails and speeches reveal a candidate with little integrity and few core principles, an opportunistic policy Janus who constantly changes her position to maximize political gain. She told an audience that she believes in giving the voters one position while holding different ones, and has taken such dual positions on banks; international policies, trade, illegal immigration, energy, and more. Though many of the leaked e-mails reveal views of her staff that are only attributed to Hillary, it is likely that the voluminous discussions among Clinton’s advisors about  what false rhetoric she should use to recruit “the Red Army,” also called “the base of the Democratic Party.” are not inconsistent with her own attitudes.

All of this, and more is on the way, does not show an individual with Donald Trump’s repulsive narcissism and contempt for a full half of the world’s population, but does show Clinton to be, like Trump, untrustworthy, dishonest, corrupt, ruthless, and shameless. Unlike Trump, it reveals an individual addicted to showing the public a completely different political being than she really is.

Strassle concludes her summary by saying that “Voters might not know any of this, because while both presidential candidates have plenty to answer for, the press has focused solely on taking out Mr. Trump. And the press is doing a diligent job of it.”

So I wonder…what if, rather than requiring explanation, analysis, extrapolation, and connecting the dots, and without being marred by over-reaching and biased exaggerations of already damaging evidence by right-wing, Hillary-hating zealots, visual and audible smoking gun proof of Clinton’s lies, false poses and corruption was exposed to the nation?

I now present this hypothetical as a thought experiment: Continue reading

“The Good Wife” Jumps The Ethics Shark

jumping the shark

I saw this coming several seasons ago- that the once ethically challenging CBS legal drama “The Good Wife” was on the way to strapping on Fonzie’s old water skis and jumping the old Ethics Shark. Sure enough, after being able to watch the show irregularly and being either confused or disappointed when I did, I finally got a chance to watch an entire episode last night. The Shark has been officially jumped and TGW is no longer bothering to check with its legal ethics consultants. This is known as “The David Kelley Syndrome,” as all of that producer’s legal dramas, “The Practice,” “Ally McBeal,” “Boston Legal,” etc, begin plausibly and end up in the Legal Ethics Twilight Zone as the writers run out of ideas.

In last night’s episode, “Cooked,” Good Wife Alicia’s defendant was charged with making GHB. He claims innocence because he wasn’t making authentic GHB, but a GHB-like substance,without the same chemical compound as GHB itself and thus less dangerous.  Alicia explains the law to him, which is that he would be better off if his intent was to make GHB but he  ended up with the pseudo GSB by mistake, instead of successfully making the possibly illegal GHB-like drug intentionally.  She says that he needs to be clear which he did, and tells him to tell the truth.

This is the common, much criticized defense lawyer tactic called “The Lecture” in the novel “Anatomy of A Murder.”  A lawyer is bound to explain the law to his or her client, and that sometimes means educating a client regarding how to “remember” what happened.

Then Alicia discovers that her defendant isn’t who he claims to be. He’s an FBI agent, and he’s part of an FBI sting to prove the judge in the case is taking bribes. She says she’s going to tell the judge about his false identity (and also that the charges were fake) so he tells her and that if she blows his cover, he’ll tell the judge that she suborned perjury by  giving “The Lecture.” She backs off, and agrees not to tell the judge.

Suspend her.

1. If she has a personal interest (Rule 1.7) that conflicts with her duty to protect client confidences (Rule 1.6), like her conflicting duty as an officer of the court to report a fraud on the court, a.k.a. THE WHOLE CASE, then the least she must do is withdraw under Rule 1.16. Continue reading

Cruel Activism: The Gay Rights Attack On Cynthia and Robert Gifford


It is said that close cases make bad law, and they often make bad ethics too. Legally, the culpability of Cynthia and Robert Gifford is not at all certain. Ethically, however, as right as they may be on the law, the conduct of their persecutors, same-sex couple Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, has been unnecessary, without compassion, vindictive and cruel.

The Giffords are active Christians who own Liberty Ridge Farm, located in Schaghticoke in upstate New York. They supplement the farm’s revenue with attractions designed for kids and families, including a pumpkin patch, a corn stalk maze and a rustic barn for parties and weddings. That rustic barn has three stories. The Giffords reside on the top floor, with the bottom floor designed for events, and the second floor consisting of rooms for activities relating to their preparation and management.

When Cynthia Gifford received a phone call from Melissa McCarthy inquiring about having her wedding at the farm, Cynthia invited her to visit and assess the venue.In the follow-up phone call, McCarthy revealed for the first time that the affair would be a same-sex wedding. Cynthia explained that the family’s faith held that marriages can only be a union of a man and a woman, so they did not make their farm available for ceremonies. She said, however, that the couple was welcome to hold the wedding reception there.

Apparently expecting this response, Jennifer and Melissa surreptitiously recorded the phone call. Armed with the recording, they contacted the New York Civil Liberties Union who immediately filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Giffords on their behalf.

The Giffords argue that this was not a matter of discrimination, but religious practice. They had hosted events for gay clients before, and employed gays. “The Giffords’ objection was to hosting and participating in the wedding ceremony itself and not to providing service in general to lesbians,” their lawyer said.

They lost. Bronx administrative Law Judge Migdalia Pares rejected Giffords’ claim that the farm, which is also their home, is not a place of public accommodation and is therefore not subject to the anti-discrimination provisions of New York’s Human Rights Law. She ruled that Liberty Ridge qualifies as a public accommodation because it regularly collects fees for space, facilities, services and meals, so it cannot be considered “distinctly private.”  The fact that the Giffords reside at Gifford Barn does not render it private. The Giffords were ordered to pay $13,000 in fines and restitution.

The Giffords are appealing.

The Giffords, according to the judge, “unlawfully discriminated against complainants solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.” Another way of looking at it is that Jennifer and Melissa, now married, discriminated against the Giffords solely on the basis of their religious beliefs. Why couldn’t they agree to respect the Giffords’ religious beliefs, and use the property for the wedding reception only, having the actual ceremony elsewhere? Would that really be such a hardship, or a compromise in principles? Indeed, if the nation and committed progressives really aspire to tolerance, diversity and mutual compassion and understanding, why wouldn’t that be the ethical, desirable, reasonable compromise?

I know the response to that question, of course. This was a matter of principle. This would send a message. Crushing the Giffords was necessary to show that all opposition to same sex marriage would eventually be crushed under the advance of history. Never mind that these were not anti-gay bigots, and that they have as much right to practice their faith as a lesbian couple has a right to wed. This is a zero sum game, apparently. Besides the law—probably–supports McCarthy and Erwin.

I think the actions of Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin violate the Second Niggardly Principle, which is a rule of kindness, compromise and common sense. It holds…

“When an individual or group can accomplish its legitimate objectives without engaging in speech or conduct that will offend individuals whose basis for the supposed offense is emotional, mistaken or ignorant, but is not malicious and is based on well-established impulses of human nature, it is unethical to intentionally engage in such speech or conduct.”

The couple’s legitimate objectives in this case were to get married and celebrate the marriage in an attractive venue. I don’t think setting out to punish a couple for belonging to a religion that doesn’t accept same sex marriage is a legitimate objective, nor is turning their lives upside down, nor forcing them into the maw of litigation to bend them to their will. Does the gay rights movement really feel that all those who have not yet accepted the justice and inevitability of same-sex marriage must be exposed and made to suffer? It seems that this is McCarthy and  Erwin believe, and what this case will come to stand for.

If so, I think the story of the Giffords will do more harm than good, hardening opposition, confirming suspicion, undermining trust and ultimately making acceptance for gay couples harder, however it turns out in the courts. Just because you have the law on your side doesn’t mean you have to use it when doing so involves unnecessary harm to others. Gays want compassion, kindness, tolerance and fairness. It would help if they showed a willingness to give as well as receive.

Pointer: Steven Mark Pilling

The Worst Sting Of All

Not funny, not clever, not necessary. Just cruel.

Not funny, not clever, not necessary. Just cruel.

The combination of the 24-hour cable news glut and the internet causes some significant  distortions in public perception. The public periodically thinks that sharks are mounting an organized assault on humanity, for example, which is bad for sharks. The public believes that gun violence is suddenly worse than ever in the U.S., when it is in fact dropping dramatically, which is good for hysteria-based gun control efforts.  It believes that storms like the recent tornadoes are more frequent and more deadly than they have ever been, leading ignorant news reporters and Congressmen to link the deaths to global warming. This good for Al Gore. In my case, stories like this one, which I would have blissfully been unaware of earlier in my life, come across by computer screen every day, leading me to contemplate moving to Pago Pago, or Mars out of despair for the decline of fairness and intelligence in the human race. I will steady myself and presume that without more detailed evidence, it is foolish to conclude the police and the schools are not, in fact, in league with Satan.

Only some of them are.

In Temecula, California, an undercover cop masquerading as a student orchestrated a drug bust in a Temecula Valley Unified School District high school by befriending and manipulating an autistic boy into obtaining small amounts of marijuana. You can read the whole awful tale here (the boy’s family is suing). Continue reading

The Perils of Ignoring Professionalism

Robert Stack as Eliot Ness with the rest of TV's "The Untouchables." Now THOSE guys were professional. You'd never see THEM text messaging jokes to Al Capone...

The Washington Post ran a story Tuesday describing how the defendants in an elaborate FBI sting operation escaped conviction as a consequence of the revelation of racy text messages between the agents and their undercover informant. Agents and their key informant bantered “about sex, booty calls, prostitutes, cigars, the Village People, the informant’s wives and an agent’s girlfriend.”  When the arrests were first announced by the Justice Department, the operation was regarded as a model law enforcement success. But federal prosecutors failed to win a single conviction,  in large part because defense lawyers used the text messages to raise juror doubts about the credibility and professionalism of FBI agents. Now the Justice Department says that in light of the first two trials, the government is evaluating “whether to continue to go forward” with the remaining prosecutions of 16 defendants, seven of whom had their cases end in hung juries.

During the most recent trial of six men and women on charges of paying bribes to win business with a foreign government, the defense attorney used the FBI’s texts both to attack the character of the informant and to suggest that the lead agent was an untrustworthy, bigoted, anti-gay misogynist. The FBI believes this was unfair, and an example of a lawyer’s trick defeating justice. Informants, almost without exception, are sleazy characters, and managing them takes skill and guile. The agents felt it was essential to build trust, which meant working to develop a collegial  relationship, at least in the informant’s mind. The text banter, they say, was designed to ensure the loyalty of a low-life, which required the agents to sometimes act like low-lifes themselves. Thus they texted messages back and forth that included bawdy jokes, innuendos about sex, anti-gay stereotypes and more, all in a buddy-buddy tone that the jury found troubling. “The texts were one of many things that point to an absolutely amateurish operation,” the jury foreman told the Post. Continue reading

James O’Keefe—Still Faking, Still Recording, Still Unethical

This is all your fault, Allen Funt!

The latest James O’Keefe Candid Camera stunt is supposed to show corruption in the Medicaid system. As in his earlier video hit-jobs on ACORN and NPR, O’Keefe’s colorful crew of community theater rejects pose as outrageous and unsavory stereotypes—this time, drug-smuggling Russians with the worst accents since “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” who are pimping out their “sisters” for sex. The O’Keefe Players manage to find a jolly, badly-trained, none-too-swift Ohio Medicaid worker who giggles away their confessions of wanting to defraud Medicaid and dealing illegal drugs. The video of the dumb encounter—dumb charade, dumber government employee—has been posted on YouTube. More of the same, presumably, is on the way.

If you’re as bored with this as I am, please tell O’Keefe to stop. Of course his act is as unethical as his “Russians'” accents are embarrassing: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Hero and Dunce: A Tale of Two Windfalls”

In a classic example of  “Be careful what you wish for,” I had been thinking about how none of the recent comments, excellent though many were, quite struck the “Comment of the Day” gong for me, and then, like the answer granted by a perverse genie, this turns up. A reader named Lawrence Reliford argues that Stephen McDow had every right to spend the money erroneously deposited in his bank account, and in the process evokes—let’s see—six rationalizations, three misconceptions, two bad analogies, one wonderful Malaprop and a partridge in a pear tree.  (I may have miscounted; this can also be an ethics quiz.) On a more depressing note, I am quite certain that a larger portion of the population than any of us would be comfortable admitting agree with Lawrence. You can find my response to his comment with the original post, here...but please feel free to write your own. Lawrence needs all the guidance he can get. Here is The Comment of the Day: Continue reading

Ethics Hero and Dunce: A Tale of Two Windfalls


You can trust Robert Adams. Well, that's ONE....

Stephen Reginald McDow of Laguna Beach, California found an unexpected $110,000 federal tax refund in his bank account. He knew it wasn’t his; he also had to realize it was an error. But what the heck…he took a shot. McDow spent the money on foreclosure debts and  paying off his student and car loans.

He’s been charged with one felony count of theft of lost property, with a sentencing enhancement for taking property over $65,000, and faces a maximum sentence of four years in state prison.

There is a lot of sympathy for McDow; you can see man in the street interviews on cable where people say things like, “Hey, are you kidding me? If I found all that money in my bank account, I’d spend it too! Anyway, it isn’t his fault!” A lot of people apparently think this way, which means they are ethically inert. The issue isn’t who was responsible for the money landing in the wrong account (the rightful recipient of the refund had given the IRS the wrong bank account number), but that someone had lost money that rightfully belonged to her, not McDow, and it became his duty to fix the problem.Instead, he spent it, and crossed his fingers. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Find The Tell-Tale Mistake!

Unfortunately, James O'Keefe is no Nellie Bly

Kansas City Star reporter Mary Sanchez has posted an excellent column entitled “James O’Keefe and the Ethical Bankruptcy of ‘Gotcha’ Journalism.” Outside of an unfortunate final “Let’s see some genuine evidence that NPR’s coverage is biased” conclusion (you mean, other than its choice of stories, its lack of ideological balance, Nina Totenberg, its treatment of Juan Williams, and its institutionalized positions on issues like Palestine, gun control, abortion,  and illegal immigration?), she makes a strong case. But her piece is marred by a tell-tale gaffe that makes me doubt her own ethical orientation.

Your challenge in today’s Ethics Quiz: Find it! It occurs in this section: Continue reading