Category Archives: Law: Ethics

Practice Tip: Tell Your Clients “Don’t Text to the Witness”

We've all heard about the jurors who go home at night and Google the witnesses or the lawyers — and I'm sure the cases we hear about are only the tip of the iceberg.

But the feisty South Florida Lawyers Blog has got a story that tops any of that: a party text messaging with a witness during a break in that witness's testimony.

Instant mistrial when discovered. (Note: the lawyers were at a sidebar with the judge when it happened, so they're not to blame for this one.)

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Local Blogger Wins Case

Congratulations to David O. Marcus for this big win : Pain doctor trial: judge orders government to pay most of M.D.'s legal bills.

Calling the actions of prosecutors “profoundly disturbing,” a federal judge in Miami has ordered the U.S. government to pay sanctions topping $600,000 in the case of a South Florida physician charged with illegally prescribing painkillers.

U.S. District Judge Alan Gold is forcing the government to pay Dr. Ali Shaygan more than half the costs he incurred to defend himself at trial as punishment for secretly recording his defense team.

In a harshly-worded 50-page order, Gold said the “win-at-any-cost behavior” of federal prosecutors Sean Cronin and Andrea Hoffman raised “troubling issues about the integrity of those who wield enormous power over the people they prosecute.”

Kidding aside (I couldn't resist the headline, sorry David), this is a major verdict and an important victory, especially as it comes on the heels of the Stevens case. Two cases isn't a huge sample, but it at least raises the possibility that under the prior administration the Justice Department may have developed problems that go beyond partisanship and involve losing sight of their mission to do justice rather than win at all costs.

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People Unclear on the Concept

Scott Horton, Why Two Bush Appointees Are Refusing to Leave, describes the incredible story of U.S. Attorneys Mary Beth Buchanan of Pittsburgh and Alice Martin of Birmingham — both highly partisan and dubiously ethical — who although they serve at the pleasure of the President refuse to hew to custom by tendering resignations, and either think they can bluff Team Obama into not firing them or see some partisan value in being fired rather than going quietly.

It had better not work. There is a place for holdover US Attorneys — when they're really good and genuinely non-partisan. Patrick Fitzgerald, for example. But ladies, you're no Patrick Fitzgerald.

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Spitzer Does the Right Thing

YouTube – Eliot Spitzer Resignation

Now, how about family values Senator Vitter – when is he going to resign?

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Contrary Views on Spitzer

Here are two well-written blog postings that argue Spitzer need not resign:

I'm not persuaded. I don't think Spitzer should be treated worse then the next John, which means he maybe shouldn't be prosecuted and certainly shouldn't go to jail. But that doesn't mean he belongs in the Governor's mansion.

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Spitzer Must Go

If the facts as we currently know them are true, NY Gov. Eliot Spitzer must resign.

As a general rule, I think that office-holders who commit crimes while in office should not continue to hold that office. (I do take shockingly bold positions, don't I?) This case seems to fall into that general rule. I admit that I have exceptions to my rule. For example, I can imagine excusing some — but only some — crimes involving entrapment, or highly technical and basically harmless violations of complex rules in the context of a good-faith effort to comply, or reliance on reasonable advice of counsel. But this case — from what we know so far — isn't even close to one of those exceptions.

The problem is not infidelity. It's not even the overweening stupidity (“worse than a crime: a blunder”). Nor even the incredible assumption that so many politicians and CEOs seem to have that the rules that apply elsewhere don't apply to them — although that gets close. The problem is that this is criminal behavior. And we really can't define our minimum requirements for public life that low and still hope to get this country out of the ditch.

The charge of “structuring” cash withdrawals seems to me the sort of technical issue I would be inclined to forgive; the suggestions of a Mann Act claim are silly on these facts; but the basic fact remains that hiring prostitutes is a crime. Maybe — maybe — it should be legal. (I don't feel well enough informed as to how 'victimless' a crime this is to have strong views; the expensive market may differ from the street, further complicating matters.) But it's not legal. And I think we must expect basic legality from public officials (and if they don't like the rules, let them lead the charge for better ones). That this particular crime is rarely prosecuted, and even more rarely prosecuted by the feds doesn't change a thing. That Spitzer once trumpeted his office's prosecution of a prostitution ring just adds hypocrisy to the mix.

Even if it this case were shown to be highly selective prosecution of a Democratic Governor by a partisan Justice Department — and we don't at present have nearly enough facts to allow us to reach any conclusions on this question — my conclusion remains firm: if indeed the facts are as we currently know them, then Spitzer must go.

(And so too should Senator David Vitter. And no doubt many others.)

Posted in Law: Ethics | 4 Comments