Social Media Is Eyeball To Eyeball With Legal Ethics, And Guess Who Blinked First?

Online consumer complaints about lawyers on sites like Avvo and Yelp have been driving lawyers crazy. The ethics rules on client confidentiality prohibit a lawyer from defending him (her) self online, because that requires revealing details of the representation. Two years ago, the Colorado Bar suspended a lawyer’s license d for six months after he responded to a negative online review and revealed that the complaining client had bounced a check and committed unrelated felonies. Lawyers are also generally prohibited from suing their clients for false statements about them in disciplinary complaints, but there have been exceptions. In Blake v. Giustibelli, the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld a $350,000 libel judgement for a lawyer  against a divorcing couple who posted an online review that falsely accused the attorney of inflating fees and falsifying a contract.

Now Florida, one of the strictest jurisdiction regarding attorney ethics, has allowed a tiny crack in the wall. The Florida Bar Ethics Committee voted 18-0 to approve a Florida Bar Staff Opinion that “permits an inquiring attorney to post a limited response to a negative online review that the attorney says falsely accuses her of theft.” The Florida Bar says that  the increasing frequency of negative online reviews mandate some loosening of the rules. “An attorney is not ethically barred from responding to an online review by a former client where the former client’s matter has concluded,” the opinion states. “However, the duty of confidentiality prevents the attorney from disclosing confidential information about the prior representation absent the client’s informed consent or waiver of confidentiality.”

You can read more about the Bar Committee’s findings on the Florida Bar website here.

Comment of the Day: “Yale’s Bigoted Dean And Pazuzu”

I admire this perceptive comment about cyber-rudeness posted  by crella  in respense to the recent article on the Yale dean who was addicted to posting Yelp reviews that mocked and showed her contempt for various classes of citizens, like “white trash.” I’m also pleased to recognize her long-time contributions to the discussions here. They are consistently articulate, thoughtful, and civil. Her post makes the important point that people show their true character in their online discourse, and crella’s online discourse here shows intelligence and sensitivity.

Here is crella’s Comment of the Day on the post, Yale’s Bigoted Dean and Pazuzu:

Social media has dumbed-down society far faster than I ever thought possible, through fostering the need for outside validation (likes, views, numbers of ‘friends’) and the brevity forced on the user on some platforms (Twitter’s 140 character limit). In combination, these two conditions have almost wiped out in-depth discussion; you can try, but you’ll likely get a ‘tldr’ for your efforts (‘too long, didn’t read’ but then they’ll post their opinion anyway)…and, instead of reasoned arguments, snark level has become the new indicator of intelligence.

All these factors are evident in Chu’s actions. I was puzzled as to why anyone would send out a blanket email to let everyone know she was a Yelp Elite. Being bumped up a category for most restaurant reviews is a strange thing to want attention for, but perhaps any internet ‘fame’ is good? The snark as intelligence factor is prominent in most of her reviews, she’s too good for many of the places she’s been, better than the people serving her. It really went so far to her head she couldn’t see how nasty she had become, it was normal amongst Yelp followers, but not outside of it. Continue reading

Yale’s Bigoted Dean And Pazuzu

I’m generally a Jonathan Turley fan—for one thing, he makes almost as many typos on his blog as I do— but the George Washington Law School constitutional law professor is the master of equivocation, and this often obscures important facts. Writing about Yale’s  Dean June Chu, recently put on leave by the school  for  online posts showing her to be a racist, a bigot and a hypocrite, he writes that she

“has been a successful academic and administrator at Yale University.  However, that stellar record came to a halt — and Chu was put on leave — after it was discovered that she had written reviews on Yelp deemed offensive.” 

“Deemed offensive” is classic Turley mild-speak, and it misleadingly suggests that the Yale dean has been another victim of campus political correctness because someone “deemed” her words “offensive.” Here is a sample of what she wrote on Yelp in various consumer reviews:

  • In a review of a Japanese steakhouse, Chu wrote, “I guess if you were a white person who has no clue what mochi is, this would be fine for you . . . if you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you!”
  • She  described a theater as having “sketchy crowds (despite it being in new haven)”
  • She said a movie theater  had “barely educated morons trying to manage snack orders for the obese and also try to add $7 plus $7.”
  • Chu said of a fitness employee that “seriously I don’t care if you would ‘lose your job’ (I am sure McDonalds would hire you).”
  • She called another  gym class instructor ” frail and totally out of shape.”

Interestingly and tellingly, these and other nasty posts by Chu were discovered by students after she sent a campus-wide email  in which she proudly announced that she had become “Yelp Elite,” meaning that she had been recognized by Yelp for “well-written reviews, high quality tips, a detailed personal profile, an active voting and complimenting record, and a history of playing well with others.” Some students decided to see what she had written.  That wasn’t an unpredictable response, so Chu obviously didn’t see anything wrong with the attitudes she had projected. Stunned and disillusioned by what they found, the students  circulated some of the most remarkable of her comments. These  sparked anger from Yale students and alumni, who deemed the posts offensive because, Prof Turley, they were offensive. They were arrogant, elitist, classist and racist, reflected poorly on the institution, and  were not the kinds of expression that supported Yale’s trust in her. Continue reading

The 8th Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2016: The Last Of The Worst

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Ethics Alarms wraps up the Worst in 2016 Ethics with the usual education and journalism breaches, Ethics Dunce of the Year, and more delights for the sadistic…

Unethical Government Fiasco Of The Year

The Flint, Michigan water crisisA failure of competence, diligence, responsibility and honesty, compounded by bureaucrats, elected officials, the city of Detroit, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and the EPA made people sick and cost billions.

Good job, everybody!

Scam of the Year

Sen.Ted Cruz’s fake “official” mailer before the Iowa Caucus. Cruz’s campaign  sent out mailers labeled in all capital letters, “ELECTION ALERT,” “VOTER VIOLATION,” “PUBLIC RECORD,” and “FURTHER ACTION NEEDED.” On the other side, the mailer said, in red letters at the top, “VOTING VIOLATION.” The text read:

You are receiving this election notice because of low expected voter turnout in your area. Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.

This is why Trump’s nickname for Cruz, “Lyin’ Ted,” was crude but accurate.

Ethics Dunces Of The Year

All the social media users and others who ended Facebook friendships, genuine friendships and relationship over the 2016 election. Haven’t they ever seen “It’s A Wonderful Life”? Morons. Shame on all of them.

Weenies of the Year

The college students who demanded that exams be cancelled, therapists be available, safe spaces be found, puppies be summoned and cry-ins be organized because the awful candidate they supported in the Presidential election lost, as candidates often do.

How embarrassing.

Unethical University Of The Year 

Liberty University.  This is the most competitive of categories, with all the schools that railroaded male students based on questionable sexual assault claims while quailing in fear of the Dept. of Education’s “Dear Colleague Letter,” and all the schools that signaled that the results of a simple election justified PTSD treatment for their shattered charges, as well as making it clear to any students who dared to tilt Republican that they were persona non grata. Nonetheless, Liberty University takes the prize with its unique combination of greed, hypocrisy, and warped values. From the Ethics Alarms post:

Last week, with great fanfare, Liberty hired Ian McCaw as its new athletic director. “My vision for Liberty is to position it as a pre-eminent Christian athletic program in America,” McCaw said during a news conference.

This is his first paying assignment since May, when he left his job as the athletic director at Baylor, also a Christian university. His departure was made essential after a thorough investigation that found that those overseeing Baylor’s  football team as well as the management of  the athletic department—that is, McCaw— had been informed of multiple gang rapes and sexual assault by team members and had ignored it, as any good football-loving Christian would….especially when a star was involved.

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Talia Jane, Public Jerk, Grabs Credit For Yelp’s Pay Raise

She's baaaaaack!

She’s baaaaaack!

Remember the fifteen-minutes of infamy of Talia Jane, an entry-level Yelp employee who posted an article to the social media site Medium titled, An Open Letter To My CEO?    Cheekily addressed to “Jeremy” (Yelp Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Stoppleman), the letter/rant/ classic of arrogant entitlement was a long, snotty whine about her low compensation—you know, like all entry-level jobs—alleged abject poverty (which was quickly shown to be a lie), high Bay Area living expenses (because they were a secret until she moved there), company policies and the fact that Yelp creator Stoppleman was rich.

Jane was thoroughly shredded by every online commentator (including Ethics Alarms) over the age of 21 and not a Bernie Sanders supporter. The obnoxious screed showed a complete lack of personal responsibility for her own choices, and made her a strong candidate for Most Unattractive Job Candidate of 2016. My conclusion:

I wouldn’t trust Talia Jane to run my lemonade stand.

Hey, but she’s young, she made a mistake, and she’ll learn and grow through this misstep, understanding the error of her ways and going forward to become a fair, reasonable, ethical member of society, right?

Fat chance. I hesitated to pronounce her essay as signature significance, a misbegotten ethics botch of a magnitude that indicated the author was probably an incurable toxic jerk, because 25 is too early to write off even the most egregious offenders. She may learn yet, I suppose, but the most recent evidence is not encouraging. Continue reading

Five Reasons Why Melissa Harris Perry’s Email Is Even Worse Than Talia Jane’s Open Letter To Yelp

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Last week, Talia Jane, a low-level Yelp worker, wrote a whining online “open letter” to Yelp’s CEO that became an instant classic in the category of “How not to treat one’s employer.” Yesterday, MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry sent an e-mail to her colleagues at MSNBC announcing that she was refusing to appear on her show this weekend because her show had been virtually taken away from her and that she felt “worthless” in the eyes of NBC News executives. You can read the whole thing here, but here are the juicy parts:

” [A] s of this morning, I do not have any intention of hosting this weekend. Because this is a decision that affects all of you, I wanted to take a moment to explain my reasoning…

Here is the reality: our show was taken — without comment or discussion or notice — in the midst of an election season. After four years of building an audience, developing a brand, and developing trust with our viewers, we were effectively and utterly silenced. Now, MSNBC would like me to appear for four inconsequential hours to read news that they deem relevant without returning to our team any of the editorial control and authority that makes MHP Show distinctive.

The purpose of this decision seems to be to provide cover for MSNBC, not to provide voice for MHP Show. I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head. I am not owned by Lack, Griffin, or MSNBC. I love our show. I want it back. I have wept more tears than I can count and I find this deeply painful, but I don’t want back on air at any cost. I am only willing to return when that return happens under certain terms.

…I have a PhD in political science and have taught American voting and elections at some of the nation’s top universities for nearly two decades, yet I have been deemed less worthy to weigh in than relative novices and certified liars. I have hosted a weekly program on this network for four years and contributed to election coverage on this network for nearly eight years, but no one on the third floor has even returned an email, called me, or initiated or responded to any communication of any kind from me for nearly a month. It is profoundly hurtful to realize that I work for people who find my considerable expertise and editorial judgment valueless to the coverage they are creating.

While MSNBC may believe that I am worthless, I know better. I know who I am. I know why MHP Show is unique and valuable. I will not sell short myself or this show. I am not hungry for empty airtime. I care only about substantive, meaningful, and autonomous work. When we can do that, I will return — not a moment earlier…”

As with Talia, this screed has apparently cost Harris-Perry her job. Good. Continue reading

An Unethical Match: The Ex-Yelp Whiner Finds The Perfect Potential Employer, Sort of

Fdbak

Fdbak, for those times you are afraid to complain about bad service. I think you need a better example for your website, Bob. Signed, Anonymous.

In writing about Talia Jane, Ethics Alarms concluded that her “open letter” to her boss at Yelp was really an career play designed to get the aspiring writer publicity and sufficient fame to exploit for her advancement. If it constituted unprofessional conduct and betrayal of trust, she really didn’t care. (Subsequent investigations of her social media activity indicate that her representations of abject poverty were less than honest). Whether this was the plan or not, her public screed, like excrement attracts flies, got her a job interview with what seems like a good match for someone with her peculiar sense of ethical conduct.

The marketing director at a Dallas startup company called Fdbak sent an invitation Talia’s way on the company’s Facebook page:

Dear Talia Jane,

I commend you for standing up for yourself, and your coworkers. Communicating directly with your CEO takes a lot of courage, especially when the subject matter is negative. I’m reaching out to you on behalf of Fdbak, Inc., a Dallas, TX based technology firm. Fdbak created a messaging app that lets you send and receive anonymous feedback to and from anyone. More importantly, you can tell your employer what you really think, without fear of retribution.

You have already been put through a tumultuous gauntlet of improper employee-employer relations, but there are many employees out there that are struggling to speak up, fearing a result similar to yours. Our goal is to provide individuals with an anonymous vehicle for workplace communication, protecting them from what happened to you. We’d love to have you on our team, helping us build a professional environment where you can speak freely and safely to anyone.

Robert Cowlishaw
Marketing Director at Fdbak

The message is factually incorrect, and what is known in the marketing field as “bullshit.” Talia didn’t communicate directly with her CEO, or if she did, she hasn’t said so. She communicated indirectly and publicly, using a medium, “Medium,” that it was a fair guess that her boss never used or read. So why is Fdbak extolling her unethical open letter and misrepresenting it? Simple: the company, a start-up, is trying to hitchhike on her 15 minutes of fame before it expires, even though her conduct doesn’t really fit.

‘Uh, Bob? She didn’t get fired for communicating directly with her boss. She got fired for embarrassing the company by attacking it in public.’

‘Close enough!!!!’

I now know this is a sleazy company aborning, and so should you.

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