Another Leap Down A Slippery Slope: Massachusetts Repeats The Michelle Carter Debacle

The Suffolk County (Mass.) District Attorney has charged Inyoung You, a 21-year-old South Korean native and former Boston College student,  with involuntary manslaughter in the suicide of 22-year-old Alexander Urtula, who jumped to his death on May 20, 2019, the day he was going to graduate.  You was in cellphone contact with her boyfriend that day, and was at the scene when he plunged to his death.

While Urtula struggled with mental health issues throughout the pair’s 18-month relationship,  You was “physically, verbally, and psychologically abusive, and was so “wanton and reckless” that it  “resulted in overwhelming Mr. Urtula’s will to live,” the DA told reporters. “She was aware of his spiraling depression and suicidal thoughts brought on by her abuse, yet she persisted, continuing to encourage him to take his own life.”  Among the over 47,000 text messages sent by You in the two months leading up to Urtula’s suicide, here were hundreds “where (You) instructed him” to take his own life, as well as “claims that she, his family and the world would be better off without him.”

Nice.

But is it criminal?

There are differences in the two cases, but this is redolent of the 2017 prosecution and conviction Michelle Carter, who was convicted in the Bay State of involuntary manslaughter for urging her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to kill himself, which he did. The conviction was upheld by an appeals court this past February, so Carter will apparently serve out her entire 15 month sentence—for the content of her text messages. Continue reading

The Michelle Carter Verdict

Michelle Carter’s 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, had told her that he has been considering suicide. First, she told him to seek counseling, then  she changed course, texting him to go through with it. “The time is right and you’re ready, you just need to do it!” she wrote.  “You can’t keep living this way. You just need to do it like you did last time and not think about it and just do it babe.”

Later, she texted to Roy that his family accept his death, and that he would enjoy the afterlife. “Everyone will be sad for a while but they will get over it and move on. They won’t be in depression. I won’t let that happen. They know how sad you are, and they know that you are doing this to be happy and I think they will understand and accept it. They will always carry you in their hearts,” she texted.

“You are my beautiful guardian angel forever and ever. I’ll always smile up at you knowing that you aren’t far away.”

A week before the suicide, encouraging her boyfriend to be more diligent as he searched for the supplies he needed and then going through with his plan in these exchanges:

“Do you have the generator?”

“Not yet LOL,”

“WELL WHEN ARE YOU GETTING IT?”

“Now.”

“You can’t think about it. You just have to do it. You said you were gonna do it. Like I don’t get why you aren’t”

“I don’t get it either. I don’t know”

“So I guess you aren’t gonna do it then All that for nothing. I’m just confused. Like you were so ready and determined.”

“I am gonna eventually. I really don’t know what I’m waiting for but I have everything lined up”

“No, you’re not, Conrad. Last night was it. You keep pushing it off and you say you’ll do it, but you never do. It’s always gonna be that way if you don’t take action”

 “You better not be bullshitting me and saying you gonna do this and then purposely get caught.”

“No, none of that.”

On July 12, 2014, Conrad drove to a Kmart parking lot and connected his truck to a pump that released carbon monoxide. When he lost his nerve and got out of the truck, his girl friend texted him  to “get back in.”  She never alerted any authorities to stop the suicide attempt. The young man was found dead in his truck.

Yesterday, Judge Lawrence Moniz, of Bristol County Juvenile Court in southeastern Massachusetts, ruled that Ms. Carter, just seventeen at the time of her crime, committed involuntary manslaughter by urging Roy to kill himself. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: “How You Gonna Keep Her Teaching The Class After It’s Seen Paree?”

horrified students

…..or “It May Not Be The Naked Teacher Principle, But It May Still Be A Problem.”

In the wake of the most recent post here about the Naked Teacher Principle, Ethics Alarms received many inquiries from readers who cited the news item about the hapless teaching assistant at the University of Iowa who somehow managed to send her class not merely sexually provocative photos of herself, not merely nude photos of herself, but something much more kinky. Attached to a message that read “Hi Class, I attach the solutions for number 76 and 78 in this email” were a series of images showing the young woman sans clothes and sans inhibitions having a lively cyber-sexting chat with a partner in which the two were pleasuring themselves in front of video equipment while streaming to each other.

Hmmm. That didn’t come out quite right.

Anyway, the question was: Does this conduct, which goes well beyond the conditions of the Naked Teacher Principle but which occurred at a university rather than a high school or middle school, trigger said principle, regardless of intent?

The answer is no, not regardless of intent. Continue reading

Now THIS Is A Legal Ethics Violation!

Horrible text messageJeremy Daniel Oliver, a friendly Oklahoma lawyer specializing in criminal and family law, was recently arrested and charged with the felonies of soliciting sex with a minor and distributing obscene materials via technological means. You see, Oliver offered to knock $1000 off his fee for legal services for a female client…

…in exchange for sex with her, or, in the alternative,

…her 18-year-old-daughter, or, as another option,

… her 13-year-old daughter,

…in a text message sent to his client’s phone

...while deputies were with the mother.

Oh yes…he also sent her a picture of his penis.

This alleged conduct involves several ethics rules, I aver, including those prohibiting a lawyer from breaking significant laws, having sex with clients (though, oddly, there is nothing in the rules prohibiting sex with the daughters of clients), and perhaps most of all, charging unreasonable fees, though to be fair, having not seen the photo of Mr. Oliver’s penis, I can’t say how unreasonable.

As Consumerist’s Vivia Chen would say, “Not cool.”

____________________________

Pointer: ABA Journal

Facts: News OK

Now THIS Is An Unethical Lawsuit (And a Bonus Ethics Quiz!)

A perfect lawsuit for Jackie!

Not legally unethical, mind you, oh no no no! Remember, a lawyer is not unethical when he brings a crack-brained lawsuit as long as he can muster some vaguely plausible theory to support it. Even if he thinks the case is a long-shot of long-shots, if the lawyer has a good-faith belief that it could prevail without violating the natural laws of time and space, it’s “ethical.” Thus it is that the lawyer for the victims of a car crash caused because the teenaged driver of the other vehicle was reading a text message from his girlfriend can ethically bring a lawsuit against both the driver, Kyle Best, and his girl friend. 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

Why Public Flossing IS Our Business

In today’s Sunday New York Times, the City Room column is devoted to the increasingly common topic of public grooming, specifically flossing one’s teeth in public. Lion Calandra recounts an exchange with a young woman doing her dental hygeine on the subway, who finished by throwing her used floss to the subway car floor.

“Maybe you should do that at home,” Calandra suggested. “Maybe you should mind your own business,” the woman sneered. Continue reading