Ethics Hero: Lawyer/Blogger Scott Greenfield

No question: Justice Holmes would think Scott Greenfield is a good man.

No question: Justice Holmes would think Scott Greenfield is a good man.

Criminal defense lawyer and caustic, if trenchant, blogger Scott Greenfield stakes out a noble and correct stand on legal ethics and ethics generally in a superb post titled, “What Tastes Good To You?” Read the entire post, but his essay springs from a question that has been posed in various forums (including,  in slightly different form,the Jack Lemmon comedy “How To Murder Your Wife”), to wit:

If you could commit any crime and get away with it, what would it be? 

Greenfield’s answer, the ethically correct one, is “none” : “Just because we can get away with it isn’t a reason to do wrong.” Thus does he definitively separate himself from what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes referred to as “the Bad Man” in his famous 1897 essay, “The Path of the Law.”  For Holmes’ “bad man” never breaks a law, but only because he abhors punishment.From this starting point, Greenfield considers a professional debate about whether the legal marketing tactic (as determined by the courts) of buying up another firm’s name as a web “key word” to lead customers to one’s competing firm is “unseemly,” which is to say, unethical, though not technically unethical under the professional rules of conduct. One of the defenders of the practice describes the division on the issue to a difference in “taste,” leading Greenfield to aim carefully and fire: Continue reading

Proof That Republicans Are Led By “The Bad Man”

If there is a Republican out there who does not want to hang his or her head in shame after reading this story, 1) I want to know why, and 2) don’t vote for this individual, no matter whom they are running against., or for what.

For this is the mark of the constitutionally unethical, the same warped comprehension of right and wrong that allows Goldman Sachs executives testify before the Senate, under oath, that they see “nothing wrong with” and have “”no regrets” about selling products to clients that they knew were terrible investments. It represents the credo of  Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous “Bad Man,” whom he described in his speech, “The Path of the Law,” a citizen whose only interest in obeying the law is avoiding penalties, and who can be counted on to lie, cheat and do others harm whenever gaps in the laws permit. And, of course, it typifies the political style of Michael Steele, who, by definition, could never lead an ethical organization, because any organization that will tolerate someone like him must not care about ethics.

Get this: Continue reading

The Ethics of Unethical Ethics Teachers

An essay by lawyers Joel Cohen and Katherine A. Helm begins with this story:

Noted ethics philosopher and Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell once was questioned by the Harvard Board of Governors about having an extramarital affair with a student. When faced with the hypocrisy of being an ethics professor engaged in immoral conduct, Russell argued his private affairs had nothing to do with his professional duties. “But you are a Professor of Ethics!” maintained one of the board members. “I was [also] a Professor of Geometry at Cambridge,” Russell rejoined, but “they never asked me why I was not a triangle.”‘

The authors use the anecdote to explore the issue of whether proven ethics miscreants like Eliot Spitzer, Rod Blagojevich and disbarred class action lawyer William Lerach ought to be lecturing, speaking, or otherwise being listened to in regard to their opinions and advice on ethics. After all, acting teachers are often indifferent actors, and the best baseball managers weren’t much as players. Why should ethics be any different?  Continue reading