Looking forward to the ethical week ahead, certain that I’ll be disappointed, and bitterly, based on last week…
1. The Ethicist’s Dilemma. I’m preparing for a couple of legal ethics CLE seminars for government lawyers, and raised an ethical dilemma facing me to my sister. The last time I included government lawyer ethics issues related to the multiple controversies in the Mueller investigation, the FISA process, and the Michael Cohen clown act, I received several critical evaluations that were entirely partisan and political. And, in the session itself, there were a couple of participants obviously set at “hair-trigger” to register accusations and objections that any criticism–based on pure legal ethics analysis on my part—that found fault with the lawyers involved revealed me as a dreaded “Trump supporter.” I asked my sister, who is a retired government lawyer with extensive Justice Department experience, if I should nonetheless cover such issues as Robert Mueller flagrantly violating Rule 3.8 of the D.C, Rules with his public statement last week, or what a White House Counsel’s ethical obligations are regarding communications from the President (since the “who is the client?” complexities of that role continue to confound legal ethics experts, my position is that the WHC has an ethical obligation to make it crystal clear to any President when he is covered by attorney-client privilege and when he is not, to cite one example.)
Her depressing advice: Don’t touch any of it. People, even lawyers, are not capable of keeping their emotions and political passions under control these days, she said. No matter how accurate and fair your analysis is, she emphasized, you risk allowing these hot-button issues to derail the seminar and even harm your professional reputation.
Yet I believe that I have an obligation to cover these issues. I also have a lifetime bias for doing what people tell me will be disastrous when I am convinced that it is the right thing to do. Then my father’s voice comes out of the mists of time, reciting his favorite fake obituary, a ditty about sailing:
Who died maintaining his right of way
He was right, dead right, as he sailed along
But he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.