Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/28/18: Expired Ethics, Sleeping Fact-Checkers, Ghosts, The Dumbest Ethics Train Wreck Of Them All…

It’s a beautiful morning!

1. When “Everybody Does it” isn’t just a rationalization. I was asked by a law firm to render an opinion as to whether particular conduct was a violation of the legal ethics rules.  A legal ethics opinion—bar associations issue these periodically to cover gray areas– in the jurisdiction said that it was, but the opinion was over 20 years old. The reasoning given in the opinion for declaring the conduct unethical was that the practice was “new to the jurisdiction” and might mislead or confuse the public.

Today, however, my research showed, the conduct is commonplace in that jurisdiction. Many, many law firms engage in it. What was new two decades ago is new no longer, and the reasoning for the opinion’s conclusion was based on conditions that no longer exist. Moreover, no firm has been punished for the conduct, and won’t be.

The firm was concerned that the legal ethics opinion had not been over-ruled or withdrawn. I said that it didn’t have to be. “Everyone” was engaged in the conduct it forbade, the bar had allowed “everyone” to do it, and if an issue was raised now, I am 100% certain that the old opinion would be withdrawn as no longer reasonable or germane.

2. One more human feature that makes ethics harder: the ability to simultaneously hold two contradictory and mutually exclusive beliefs.

I was watching one of the apparently inexhaustible supply of cable shows about haunting and paranormal investigations with my wife. This one climaxed in a session with a Ouija board, and the love of my life uttered, within seconds of each other, these two statements:

  • “It’s amazing how many otherwise intelligent people really believe in ghosts and demons.”
  • “Ouija boards! I wouldn’t allow one of those things in the house. I’m not taking any chances.

I have heard many other friends and acquaintances endorse both of these positions as well.

3. It is the study of how one discerns the truth, after all. Who needs it? They no longer teach ethics in our education system, and now apparently philosophy is on the way out. Claremont Graduate University in California will be closing the PhD program in philosophy and terminating two tenured faculty. Apparently the move was dictated by budget and “market considerations.” The Claremont colleges in Southern California are a distinguished and growing batch consisting of Pomona, Scripps, Harvey Mudd, Claremont-McKenna, and Pitzer. They still have a philosophy faculty, but I wonder for how long.

I was tempted to check the curriculum of these schools to see what kinds of courses were deemed worthy of support while a graduate degree in philosophy was not, but I decided that it would make my head explode. Continue reading

Nefredo v. Montgomery County: Ethical Treatment for Fortune-tellers

Or should that be “ethical treatment for charlatans”?

In the case of Nefredo v. Montgomery County, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that it was an infringement of the Right of Free Speech for the Montgomery County, Md., to deny a business license to a fortune-teller on the basis of a County ordinance that declared charging a fee for fortune-telling services was a crime. The ordinance states:

“Every person who shall demand or accept any remuneration or gratuity for forecasting or foretelling or for
pretending to forecast or foretell the future by cards, palm reading or any other scheme, practice or device shall be subject to punishment for a class B violation as set forth in section 1-19 of chapter 1 of the County Code; and in any warrant for a violation of the above provisions, it shall be sufficient to allege that the defendant forecast or foretold or pretended to forecast or foretell the future by a certain scheme, practice or device
without setting forth the particular scheme, practice or device employed…” Continue reading