Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Legal Ethics Stories

Lawyers may face many moral dilemmas -- some covered by the formal rules of ethics and some not. Legal Ethics Stories is a new collection of essays looking at ten cases, exploring their contexts and the decisions the attorneys faced, often adding a postscript about subsequent developments. It is edited by Deborah L. Rhode and David J. Luban.

Not surprisingly, many of the stories involve litigation:

  • David B. Wilkins, "Race, Ethics, and the First Amendment: Should a Black Lawyer Represent the Ku Klux Klan?" looks at the situation of the ACLU cooperating attorney who took on a pro bono case representing a Klan leader and subsequently lost his position as general counsel for the local NAACP.

  • Stephen Gillers, "In the Pink Room," discusses the conviction and exoneration (after seven years in prison) of a substitute preschool teacher for child sexual abuse. The Bronx District Attorney's Office had failed to turn over to the defense documents that would have undercut the prosecution and, very likely, prevented conviction. Eventually -- 20 years after the man was wrongly accused -- the city offered a settlement of $5 million.

  • Michael Mello, "United States v. Kaczynski: Representing the Unabomber," traces the relationship between Theodore Kaczynski and his court-appointed lawyers. Their persistent plans to present mental health evidence, despite his clear wishes, led to his guilty plea. The author assisted him in a motion to overturn the plea because of the bind he was put under -- denied the opportunity to get new counsel or represent himself, he had to accept portrayal as mentally ill or plead guilty. Writes Mello: "Most of what the public knows about the Unabomber case is wrong. But not for lack of media coverage." p. 141.

  • In "Spaulding v. Zimmerman: Confidentiality and Its Exceptions," Roger C. Cramton looks at a case from the 1950s where defense counsel did not tell plaintiff about a life-threatening injury to maintain a strong negotiating position. "It is fashionable today to lament the decline of professional standards over time and to mourn the passing of a golden age of lawyering in which lawyers were more civil to each other and more public-spirited than in today's era of 'commercialism.' The facts of Spaulding suggest that in a number of important ways, things have gotten better rather than worse." p. 183.

  • In "Bankrupt in Milwaukee: A Cautionary Tale," Milton C. Regan explores the influences on an ambitious young partner that could have led him to fail to disclose a conflict to a bankruptcy court -- a failure that landed him in prison.

  • Alex Beam, in "Greed on Trial," discusses litigation over the $1.3 billion in fees sought by one of the firms that represented Massachusetts in the tobacco settlement.
Each of the stories is very interesting and provocative.

The book is available in the library: KF306 .A4L43 2006 at Reference Area. Take a look -- for parts of one story or a bunch of them.

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