Legal Ethics

Oh, the hilarity that is the phrase “criminal justice system.” Talk to any defense attorney andthey’ll tell you how the deck is stacked against defendants and defense lawyers. The ideal of “innocent until proven guilty” has become little more than a disclaimer tacked onto cop-centered reality shows. Defendants are guilty until the jury is somehow tricked by the defense into handing down a “not guilty” verdict. A lot of effort goes towards dissuading defendants from even making it this far, as prosecutors will present worst-case scenarios comprised of every violation conceivable in order to get an agreement to plead guilty to a lesser charge.

The prevailing perception that the person charged is guilty, with the only answer yet to be determined is how guilty, makes defending arrestees an uphill battle. Judge (former judge) Elizabeth Coker took this uphill battle, increased the grade to 85 degrees, covered it with a sheet of ice and sprinkled it with a 50/50 blend of Teflon and motor oil.

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This isn’t the first time someone has accused Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy of misconduct. Levy, the son of television jurist Judge Judy, has already filed suit against the local sheriff for such accusations. But the latest allegations suggest that Levy played an even bigger role than previously thought in helping his friend beat rape charges.

The defendant’s jilted former lawyer has come forward with his take on Levy’s role in the case and the revelations have one ethics expert musing that Levy could be in a lot of trouble.

I guess we can characterize all this as “don’t pee on my leg and tell me you’re not really bending over backward to help an accused rapist…”

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So at some schools, Student Bar Association (SBA) funds get used for more than open bars and law school courtyard keg parties. One school in particular is conducting an audit to determine if SBA officials took school and student funds for personal use — up to and including trips, jewelry from Tiffany’s, and the single most ironic purchase of all time.

Hard to believe, since student government types are always such goody two-shoe résumé padders. Nice, service-minded people who just want to make the law school community a friendlier place. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, non-existent power should corrupt not at all. At least that’s the theory.

So what law school boasts SBA officials who might be breaking bad?

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She holds you in contempt.

Congratulations to Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler. The voters have spoken, and he is our latest Lawyer of the Day. Maybe this honor will help Doug Gansler close the gap in the race for the Democratic nomination for governor.

We enjoyed the process so much last time that we’re going to do it again. We’ll give you three nominees, identify the arguments for or against Lawyer of the Day status, and let you vote for your favorite.

Our latest slate raises this question: what’s worse, criminal or crazy?

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When this lawyer took to the pages of a local industry mag to dispense general advice about depositions, she probably figured she was tossing out some non-controversial observations and maybe boosting her own profile. Hopefully it could drum up some business.

She probably didn’t count on kicking over a hornet’s nest of fellow lawyers, who ripped her advice and went so far as to accuse her of violating local ethics rules.

Hey, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?

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Counselor, you’re out of order.

Lawyer jokes notwithstanding, most lawyers are ethical, honorable, and competent. That’s why we tend to focus on attorney misbehavior in these pages; it’s more newsworthy. If a lawyer complies with the law or serves a client well, that’s not exactly “news”; it’s what lawyers are supposed to do, and what most lawyers do most of the time.

Alas, sometimes lawyers fall short of our profession’s high standards. Today we look at allegations of a high-ranking government lawyer abusing the perks of his office, a tax lawyer engaging in tax fraud, and a real estate lawyer who has people real mad — after taking $4 million from them.

Which of these attorneys deserves to be our Lawyer of the Day? We’ll describe their alleged misdeeds, outline the reasons for and against Lawyer of the Day honors, then let you vote for the winner….

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* Stop bullying the judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. They don’t cave to just any government data request — they make changes to about 25 percent of them. But uh… they don’t like to talk about the other 75 percent. [Bloomberg]

* Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the number of Biglaw firms with failing grades for diversity. Hunton & Williams, Patton Boggs, and Thompson Coe are by far the worst offenders of all 19 large firms, with ZERO minority partners. [Texas Lawbook]

* A contract attorney is currently facing criminal charges for felony overbilling (which isn’t actually a real crime, but it’d be cooler if it was… plus it would make lots of lawyers from DLA Piper cry). [Radio Iowa]

* Well, at least one school got the message about the tuition being too damn high. Iowa Law is reducing tuition for out-of-state students by about $8K in the hopes of filling more seats. [Des Moines Register]

* Amanda Knox, more commonly known as Foxy Knoxy, says that she’s no “femme fatale,” but she’s being portrayed, again, as a “sex-obsessed she-devil” after already being acquitted of murder. [Reuters]

* Fashion designer Christian Louboutin was seeing red over the use of his trademark red soles in anti-Islam political messages, so he sued over it, and this time, he won. Rejoice, fashionistas! [New York Magazine]

* The shutdown has shuttered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I’m not really comfortable living without those regulators. [Breaking Energy]

* Don’t bother Goldman Sachs’s general counsel with your silly little questions. [Dealbreaker]

* The decisions you make in your twenties are rarely life-threatening. So get out there and make some atrocious life-decisions, kids! [Legal Cheek]

* Lawyer sent to prison for plotting to help a client hide jewels. That sounds way dirtier than it is. [ABA Journal]

* In scary news, Adrian Peterson’s 2-year-old son was brutally beaten. [TMZ]

* In case you missed our round-up, here are ten more highlights from a recent interview with Justice Scalia. He’s apparently a big Duck Dynasty fan, which explains a lot. Video embedded after the jump… [Bloomberg Law via YouTube]

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The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Legal secretaries and other support staffers aren’t the only folks getting exiled from Biglaw. Partners who lie on their résumés are getting shown the door too.

In the prestige-soaked precincts of Biglaw, the pressure to inflate one’s credentials is understandable. Once you’re above a certain threshold, the quality of legal work can be hard to judge. In other fields of endeavor, you either can do it or you can’t — write code for a specific program, execute a triple Lutz, surgically reattach a severed hand (my dad can do this, in case you ever need his services).

In law, many people can write a brief or negotiate a contract. It then becomes a matter of how well you can do these things — and pedigree inevitably colors the evaluation of the legal services rendered.

In light of all this, a lawyer’s lying on his CV might be understandable — but it’s still a firing offense. A Biglaw partner learned this lesson the hard way….

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So, you’ve failed the MPRE. That’s horrible for you — you’ve failed a test that Saul Goodman arguably passed. It’s not your finest hour.

The only thing you can do is get right back on the horse and try again. But now you’re in for a nasty surprise, because the MPRE people have figured out how to make money off of your failure, or at the very least, they’re going to require you to jump through a needless array of hoops to be able to take the test again at a reasonable price.

Does LSAC (the organization that administers the MPRE) nickle and diming people sound “unethical”? If so, that might be why you failed the test in the first place. You see, in MPRE land, the most obviously unethical thing is the wrong answer. But the second most shady thing is usually the right answer…

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