Ethics Quiz: The Case Of The Creepy Student

Muse and Artist, Victim and Harasser, or Censor and Victim?

Muse and Artist, Victim and Harasser, or Censor and Victim?

Joseph Corlett’s essay, though I have not found the full text of it,  is undoubtedly creepy.

In fall 2011, the 56-year-old countertop refinisher was taking a writing course at the Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. His teacher, Pamela Mitzelfeld, gave the class an open writing assignment for their journals, and, Corlett says, assured them that any topic was acceptable, with no-holds barred.  She said, Corlett’s lawsuit now asserts, that she wanted “the raw stuff.”

That’s just what she got. Corlett wrote an essay called “Hot for Teacher,’ inspired by a Van Halen song by the same name, describing how his sexual attraction to Mitzelfield was irresistible. “Tall, blonde, stacked, smart and articulate…” he described her in his daybook. “Are you kidding me? I should drop right now. There is no way I’ll concentrate in class especially with that sexy little mole on her upper lip beckoning with every accented word. And that smile.”

Mitzelfield alerted university officials, saying that Corlett’s essay frightened and upset her, and that she refused to teach him any further. Moreover, she insisted that either he be ejected from the campus, or she would quit herself. He was escorted out of Mitzelfeld’s class a few days later by the Oakland University Police. A sexual harassment charge was dropped, but a hearing by university officials found Corlett guilty of intimidation and he was expelled for the rest of the semester. University officials allegedly told him that he would be arrested if he returned to the campus. His suspension lasts for  three semesters, and he must go through sensitivity counseling before he can reapply.

Aided by The Fire, Corlett is now suing for over two million dollars in damages, maintaining that his First Amendment rights have been infringed. “The university has essentially issued a straightjacket to every writing student to protect the delicate sensibilities of faculty and staff,” says Greg Lukianoff, FIRE advocate. The legal issues look pretty clear: Oakland University has a terrible case. “Write anything” means write anything, and certainly cannot mean “write anything except something the instructor will freak out over, in which case we’ll fix you good.” If it is true, as Corlett alleges in his lawsuit, that Mitzelfield made no objection to other sexually themed compositions by him that referred to her, his treatment by the school is indefensible. That’s not the ethical question, however. That question is your Ethics Alarms Quiz for the day, and goes like this: Conceding that Oakland University mishandled the episode…

Was Corlett’s essay ethical and blameless?  Continue reading

The Case of the Excessively Flexible Lawyer

A Louisville lawyer named Keith Kamenish wants to defend Dion Neal, a drug dealer, against a murder-for-hire charge.  A police informant wearing a wire recorded a hit man as he said  that he was paid by Neal to kill a competitor for him. “I put 36 slugs in that nigger’s face and stood on his head,” the independent contractor boasted, according to a transcript of the conversation filed in court. “The whole head collapsed!”


The government is trying to get Kamenish kicked off the case, and here is why: the guy whose head collapsed, LaJuante “B.B.” Jackson, was a Kamenish client at the time of his murder. Jackson was shot just four weeks after Kamenish got Jackson released on bond on a state drug charge; the lawyer’s blood- stained business card was found in Jackson’s wallet. Continue reading

The Supreme Court Saves An Ethics Principle

Mayor Quimby is honest about being corrupt. Isn't that good enough?

Rescuing the states’ power to insist on more ethical conduct from their elected legislators, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that there was no Constitutional prohibition on state rules against legislators voting on issues in which they have a private, personal interests.

The unanimous decision upheld a Nevada ethics law that governs when lawmakers recuse themselves from voting on official business because they might have conflicts of interest. The challenge to the  law came from Michael Carrigan, a conflicted city council member from the Sparks, Nev., who was reprimanded by the state ethics commission after he voted  on a casino proposal though his campaign manager had been hired as a consultant to the project.

The law prohibits a public official from voting on an issue when a “reasonable person” would suspect a conflict because of financial ties or the interest of a spouse or family member. This is the essence of “the appearance of impropriety.” It also includes “any other commitment or relationship that is substantially similar” to those spelled out.  Carrigan had argued that the Nevada’s law was overly broad and that he should be able to vote on the project, so long as he disclosed his relationship with the consultant.

Ah, disclosure! Continue reading

“The Good Wife” Ethics: Sex With Clients Edition

Diane, Diane..what were you thinking?

Last night’s episode of TV’s smartest legal drama since the 1960’s, CBS’s “The Good Wife,” dealt with the “no sex with clients” ethics rule adopted by most states (but not Washington, D.C.!) in a continuing subplot about the budding romance between firm tigress-partner Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski ) and ballistics expert Kurt McVeigh, played by Gary Cole. In the episode, entitled “Silver Bullet,” Lockhart decides to represent McVeigh when he is sued for millions.

That’s her first ethics mistake. Continue reading

Eroding Public Trust: Obama and General Electric’s “Appearance of Impropriety”

The fact that an official act appears to be sensible and fair does not necessarily mean that it is ethical.

Consider the EPA’s waiver of the new global warming regulations for a stalled power plant project in California. Officials reviewed EPA policies and decided it was appropriate to “grandfather” projects such as the Avenal Power Center, a proposed 600-megawatt power plant in the San Joaquin Valley, and thus exempt them from new federal limits on greenhouse gases and conventional air pollution. The Avenal Energy project, explains Environment and Energy News, is a combined-cycle generating plant consisting of two natural gas-fired General Electric 7FA Gas Turbines with Heat Recovery Steam Generators (HRSG) and one General Electric Steam Turbine.

Translation: It is a huge G.E. contract.

Hmmmm. Continue reading