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There was an apocryphal story — meaning it was likely bullshit — told by a law school professor about a 1-L engineer. As the story goes, the engineer turned wanna-be lawyer quit law school his first year because he was frustrated with the Socratic Method; the insufficiency of bright line rules; and the seeming poverty of absolutes in Law. For someone trained to give answers with an engineer’s precision, “it depends” was never going to be good enough. The Law may be a jealous mistress but it’s also an inconstant one.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5c/The_Scientific_Method_as_an_Ongoing_Process.svg/583px-The_Scientific_Method_as_an_Ongoing_Process.svg.pngThe point of the tale was clear. Empirical mindsets flee law schools. The scientific method is displaced by what’s called the legal method. One lawyer blogger observed that lawyers invert the scientific method, adding, “Luckily for attorneys, law is not science; it is not defined by reference to a pre-existing reality, and it is not limited to formulations that are consistent with this pre-existing state.” Precisely.

An “epidemic” of substance abusing lawyers.

So it was hardly a surprise that the lawyer commentariat would sigh with collective angst as soon as The New York Times published “The Lawyer, the Addict” subtitled “A high-powered Silicon Valley attorney dies. His ex-wife investigates, and finds a web of drug abuse in his profession.” The essay was penned by Eilene Zimmerman.

THE SKY IS  FALLING!!!

It wasn’t long after publication that the legal blogosphere ramped up, for example, here and calling it “an epidemic” here. Predictably, the-sky-is-falling.

One over-heated hand-wringer, a 2017 SMU Law grad even blogged at “In A Punishing Profession, Too Many Lawyers Are Paying The Ultimate Price,” “I hope law school candidates, law students, and lawyers take Zimmerman’s message to heart . . . the difference between heading the warnings and missing the signals can be life and death.”

As though all lawyer reputations needed further blemishment for the life choices of a few.

Just Say No.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/20/NRJUSTSAYNO.jpg/160px-NRJUSTSAYNO.jpgThere are 1.3 million lawyers in the United States and like most of society, they are a cross-section of all that reduces and elevates the human condition. But thanks to the much disseminated tragic tale of the Silicon Valley lawyer’s drug overdose death and the accompanying quotes in the article from two recovering lawyers, the public might reasonably albeit illogically conclude that the million plus member profession is racked by addiction. Why not paint all lawyers with the same broad brush? Do we need a Nancy Reagan for lawyers?

To be fair, the story takes a stab at empiricism mentioning a Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and American Bar Association (ABA) 2016 report that concluded “that attorneys experience problematic drinking that is hazardous, harmful, or otherwise consistent with alcohol use disorders at a higher rate than other professional populations.”

Data deficient conclusions.

Unfortunately, in their haste to pronounce knee-jerk remedies based on an incomplete sample size, the following cover your analysis (CYA) paragraph in the report is apparently being given short shrift. Could it be because it doesn’t buttress the narrative of a widespread drug and alcohol problem among lawyers?

“Our study is subject to limitations. The participants represent a convenience sample recruited through e-mails and news postings to state bar mailing lists and web sites. Because the participants were not randomly selected, there may be a voluntary response bias, over-representing individuals that have a strong opinion on the issue. Additionally, some of those that may be currently struggling with mental health or substance use issues may have not noticed or declined the invitation to participate. Because the questions in the survey asked about intimate issues, including issues that could jeopardize participants’ legal careers if asked in other contexts (eg, illicit drug use), the participants may have withheld information or responded in a way that made them seem more favorable. Participating bar associations voiced a concern over individual members being identified based on responses to questions; therefore no IP addresses or geo-location data were gathered. However, this also raises the possibility that a participant took the survey more than once, although there was no evidence in the data of duplicate responses. Finally, and most importantly, it must be emphasized that estimations of problematic use are not meant to imply that all participants in this study deemed to demonstrate symptoms of alcohol use or other mental health disorders would individually meet diagnostic criteria for such disorders in the context of a structured clinical assessment.”

Glossed over, too, is what the researchers declared was “the need for greater resources for lawyer assistance programs, and also the expansion of available attorney-specific prevention and treatment interventions.” Greater resources? I know of at least one Arizona lawyer assistance program volunteer who would agree. See “The Arizona Bar has no Member Assistance Program. They just want you to think they do.”

For mandatory bars, compulsory CLE is always the answer.

https://i.imgflip.com/10t4ve.jpg?a416544But instead of recommending comprehensive, objective evaluations to assess the need and efficacy of existing lawyer assistance programs, state bar associations instead look to more of the same: non-data driven ‘solutions.’ When legal elites perceive a problem, widespread or not, they do what lawyers do best, they impose rules. And the favorite option is imposing rules and regulations on others based solely on hasty generalizations. Verification or proof by observation are beside the point. Better to leap to a conclusion — not by data — but by guess and by golly.

The Bar’s easy fix is to write new rules to compel all lawyers, even the sober and abstinent to take a continuing legal education class in substance abuse and mental health awareness whether they need it or not. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” — but armed not with might — just an hour of untested mandatory CLE.

Nevada, for instance, was one of three jurisdictions requiring all active Nevada attorneys to take a minimum of one CLE hour once every three years on substance abuse, addictive disorders and or mental health issues. But as of January 1, 2018, Nevada will go everybody one better by increasing the total number of CLE hours annually required from twelve to thirteen, to include ten hours of general education, two hours of ethics, and one hour in the area of substance abuse, addictive disorders and/or mental health. Nevada Justice Kris Pickering, however, dissented stating, “I would expect evidence showing the efficacy of mandatory annual CLE on these issues for 100% of the bar, as opposed to more intensive measures targeting the 20% of the bar that is afflicted with them. Yet, there appear to be no peer-reviewed studies that examine the impact of MCLE classes on attorney alcoholism or substance abuse rates.”1

In the forced march history of CLE, there’s never been empirical proof much less data verifiably demonstrating that continuing legal education classes make lawyers more competent, more ethical or more professional. Will mandatory CLE make lawyers more sober? The only real certainty is that mandatory CLE has an indispensably salutary impact on a state bar’s bottom line. No wonder the legal establishment’s cognoscenti deem mandatory continuing legal education the answer to virtually every problem.

In the end, lawyers can always count on mandatory bar associations to impose further impingements on their liberty interests. It’s how they roll. Therefore, is it too extreme to conjure up what might be next? Specimen collection and random drug tests anyone?

 

 

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1 Nevada Supreme Court Justice Kristina Pickering’s dissent concerning the 13th mandatory substance abuse CLE hour is worth reading:

“Studies suggest that 20% of lawyers suffer from alcoholism or other addiction. This quintile of the bar accounts for more than 50% of the court’s bar discipline docket. These numbers, and the human and professional cost they represent, led me four years ago to approve amending SCR 210 to require one hour of continuing legal education (CLE) every three years on addiction and mental health issues. Directing that one out of the total 36 CLE hours required over a three-year period address these subjects seemed a modest imposition on the members of the bar if doing so accomplished this: ensuring all lawyers know about the help available free of charge through the Nevada Lawyers’ Assistance Program and the separate and entirely confidential Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers program.

“Today’s amendment to SCR 210 goes significantly further. It raises the number of mandatory CLE hours from 12 to 13 hours per year and specifies that the additional hour address addiction, substance abuse, or mental health.’ The cost of this increase to the 5,083 bar members who are subject to Nevada’s mandatory CLE requirements has not been calculated, or even acknowledged. Assuming a cost of $175 per hour for time not working and $25 per hour for tuition, both low estimates, we are looking at over $1 million in added annual expense. For that, I would expect evidence showing the efficacy of mandatory annual CLE on these issues for 100% of the bar, as opposed to more intensive measures targeting the 20% of the bar that is afflicted with them. Yet, there appear to be no peer-reviewed studies that examine the impact of MCLE classes on attorney alcoholism or substance abuse rates. And, while 18 states allow CLE credit for education on substance abuse and mental health issues, and three states have rules requiring an hour of substance abuse/mental health CLE once every three years, I have found none that have made it an annual requirement. As recognized by the states that make such education optional, not mandatory, there are other issues besides substance abuse and mental health on which CLE, chosen by the individual lawyer according to his or her interests and needs, is appropriate.

“While I share my colleagues’ concern with substance abuse and addiction in our society, generally, and in the legal community, in particular, I have true reservations about the wisdom and efficacy of today’s rule amendment. I therefore respectfully dissent.”

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Credits: Mad Scientist Photo Booth, by Zlaxfish Photography  at Flickr Creative Commons; Scientific Method, by ArchonMagnus at Wikimedia Commons, Share-Alike Attribution; Drawn live on January 23, 2010, by René van Belzen, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike; Nancy Reagan speaking at a ‘Just Say No’ Rally in Los Angeles, California. 5/13/87,” Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Puppet master meme generater at Imgflip;“Surprise,” by Erik Cleves Kristensen at Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.

 

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High temperatures, sweaty cheeks, thunderstorms, flash floods and fungus-dispersing dust storms are our annual devil’s brew during monsoon season. This time of year is the flip side of what locals otherwise consider heaven.

Circumstances permitting, more fortunate desert dwellers of the non-snowbird variety temporarily pack up their monkey butt powder and flee for whatever short-lived respite is found in cooler climes.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c2/Demonstration_of_Sweat.jpgBut notwithstanding sticky summer’s infernal doldrums, elsewhere there’s news of a different sort involving your friendly state bar associations. Here’s a quick rundown from The Irreverent notebook:

Washington State Bar President Unexpectedly Resigns

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/54/Flag_of_Washington.svg/320px-Flag_of_Washington.svg.pngWithout much notice or fanfare but citing “personal matters that require her attention,” Washington State Bar President Robin Haynes abruptly resigned last month following news reports she was under investigation stemming from accusations by two former law firm employers claiming Haynes had committed financial improprieties, specifically allegations she embezzled some $9,300. See “WA State Bar Association president accused of embezzling nearly $10k” and “President Of Washington Bar Association Resigns — Right Before The Criminal Charges.”

In a statement reported by Spokane’s Spokesman-Review newspaper, Haynes’ lawyer explained, “While Ms. Haynes has done nothing wrong and looks forward to clearing her name in a fair tribunal, she was also aware that even the rumor of an investigation would cast a shadow over the important work that the State Bar Association does.” See “Former bar president accused of using law firms’ credit cards for gym, political donations.”

Haynes who at 39 was also publicized as the youngest Washington Bar president ever — had a term that was not without some controversy. This is because she used her ‘bully pulpit’ to editorialize often in the state bar magazine against sexism and bias. In some ways, her admonitions took on the cast of what’s become the méthode du jour embodied in the polarizing proposed ABA Model Rule 8.4(g) amendment that would impose an unconstitutional speech code on lawyers. See “Allies in the Law” at February 2017 NW Lawyer where author and former WSBA Governor Phil Brady writes in her defense, “We’ve seen a lot of negative reaction to WSBA President Robin Haynes speaking up about the sexism present in our profession.”

Haynes, like the rest of bar leadership was also an ardent defender of the bar’s recently passed 141% dues increase. See “The Dialogue Continues.” Inasmuch as the bar’s governing board and court had nullified a member referendum calling for a dues increase vote, Washington State Senator and WSBA Member Mike Padden subsequently introduced Senate Bill 5721 to require the WSBA “to obtain an affirmative vote prior to increasing bar dues for membership.” Unfortunately, Padden’s bill did not get out of committee and to the floor for a vote.

California State Bar non-regulatory function split moving forward

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/98/California_State_Assembly_room_p1080879.jpg/320px-California_State_Assembly_room_p1080879.jpgLast week, the California Assembly Judiciary Committee unanimously approved SB 36, a bill that has had multiple amendments since it’s 2016 introduction. According to the July 17, 2017 assembly bill analysis, it “prioritizes the State Bar’s regulatory functions by separating the trade association functions into a new nonprofit and helping improve governance of the State Bar.”

To do this, SB 36 splits off the Cal Bar’s 16 specialty practice groups into a private nonprofit. The bill covers a lot of terrain impacting both bar governance and structure, including eliminating elections for officers of the Board of Trustees and changing the current governing board super majority into a simple majority of practicing lawyers. It also gives the Bar explicit authority to re-fingerprint active lawyers so that it can receive arrest alerts about them. Assuming swift legislative passage next month and gubernatorial signing, it becomes effective January 1, 2018.

Meanwhile in Arizona, a rule amendment petition asking the Arizona Supreme Court to similarly prioritize public protection by bifurcating the State Bar of Arizona’s regulatory and non-regulatory functions is still awaiting court action. In June, a reply was filed by the petitioner responding to the State Bar of Arizona’s wholly predictable comment against the petition. It’s worth reading here.

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Credits: monkey via morguefile.com; Washington flag, Wikimedia Commons, public domain; sweat demonstration by Dogbertio 14 at Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution; California State Assembly via Wikipedia by David Monniaux, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.

 

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On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that government, in this instance, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) may not refuse to register potentially offensive names under a law against registering trademarks likely to disparage people or groups.

The case, Matal v. Tam, strengthens the case against state bar associations seeking to further trample lawyer First Amendment rights via ABA Model Rule 8.4(g). For more about the ABA’s misguided decision “to discipline lawyers who engage in politically incorrect speech,” see “The ABA’s Control Over What Lawyers Say Around the Water Cooler.”

The Nevada Bar, for one, has petitioned its state supreme court to adopt a new lawyer speech code to punish Nevada attorneys for what newly weaponized lawyer disciplinary authorities subjectively deem “derogatory,” “demeaning,” or “harmful” speech“related to the practice of law.” Matal v. Tam renders the viewpoint discrimination enshrined by such a proposed rule presumptively unconstitutional.

Nonetheless, how much ultimate weight state supreme courts give to Matal v. Tam on such matters will depend on the jurists’ ability to temper the agenda-driven viewpoint of lawyers as sui generis ‘special snowflakes.’ Under this rubric, lawyers are expected to unreservedly pay for their ‘privilege’ with constraints on their Constitutional rights not visited upon any other profession.

Whether as agents of the state, i.e., ‘officers of the court,’ or as “public citizens” as the ABA Report describes them, lawyers are expected to tolerate the continued erosion of their rights, especially with respect to the First Amendment. See here, here, here and here and additionally, The Intersection of Free Speech and the Legal Profession; Constraints on Lawyers’ First Amendment Rights. It’s way past time for lawyers to say “Enough!”

Matal v. Tam.

In 2011, Simon Tam, the founding member of the Asian-American dance-rock band, The Slants, tried to register the band’s name with the PTO. His application was denied based on a federal law prohibiting the registration of trademarks that may “disparage . . . or bring . . . into contemp[t] or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead.” 15 U. S. C. §1052(a).

Tam characterized his trademark registration as an attempt to reclaim a slur and use it as “a badge of pride.” Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “We now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”

Student free speech.

Writing today at “The Legal Watchdog,” notable Wisconsin defense attorney Michael Cicchini trenchantly points out at “Free speech: A message for public universities (and their students) how Matal v. Tam should help curb free speech constraints currently the rage among do-gooding bureaucrats at public universities. Quoting from the opinion, Cicchini illustrates how There is no hate-speech exception to the First Amendment;”  “You can’t suppress speech you don’t agree with;” and “You should be thankful that you can’t suppress speech you don’t agree with.” His entire post bears reading.

Finally, some have inanely suggested the case is one for folks on the Right to applaud, e.g., “Today in Conservative Media: Applause for a Free Speech Victory at the Supreme Court.” To which, I rejoin, when did the U.S. Constitution and specifically, our fundamental rights become the exclusive purview or calling of one side of the political spectrum?

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Photo credits: Seal of the U.S. Supreme Court, by DonkeyHotey at Flickr Attribution; “sad emoticon,” by shamaasa  at Flickr Attribution; “Resusci-Annie’s Children Remark On the Effectiveness of the First Amendment,” by John Scalzi at Flickr Attribution.

 

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Last month, an Arizona psychic was at a restaurant having lunch when a car crashed through the window, threw him up in the air, and pinned him against a wall. “I didn’t foresee it happening,” joked injured psychic Blair Robertson after the accident. See “Arizona psychic injured when he ‘didn’t foresee’ car crash.”

Whether or not you believe in clairvoyance, you don’t need psychic powers to foresee that state bars without fail welcome their own collisions with the liberty interests of their members. It’s integral to the “do-gooder” mentality endemic among the “moral busybodies” running state bar associations.

“Those who torment us for our own good,” said C.S. Lewis, “will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” 

Do-gooders.

https://lawmrh.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/travel-tourism-18.jpg?w=1000&h=The latest do-gooder intrusion comes from a surprising quarter, the State Bar of Nevada. At one time, the Nevada Bar could be characterized by a laissez-faire attitude consistent with Nevadans’ strong independent, libertarian streak. But oh, how times have changed.

Last year, in a misguided effort grounded on anecdotal conjecture about supposed prevalent substance abuse and mental health problems among Nevada’s lawyers, Nevada’s Bar Governors petitioned the high court for another mandatory hour of annual continuing legal education in substance abuse prevention and mental health.

Continuing legal education has never been proven it makes lawyers more competent or ethical. Just the same, the Nevada Bar thought an hour of mandatory substance abuse/mental health CLE would help make lawyers abstemious and healthy-minded.

And not satisfied with only that moral meddlesomeness, the board next appointed a task force to study whether Nevada lawyers should pay more to practice by following the Oregon Bar’s improvident model of forced professional liability insurance. Oregon’s insurance mandate currently compels lawyers to pay a hefty $3,500.00 annually for the merest nominal coverage.

https://lawmrh.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/people-16688.jpg?w=163&h=155At Revenge of the Do-Gooderin The American Thinker, Scott Boerman explained what animates the do-gooder is “a great desire to cure humanity’s ills and imperfections with solutions that invariably focus on controlling other people’s property and productivity. Not to be confused with real volunteers and philanthropists — who use their own skills and wealth to directly help a favored cause — the do-gooder uses only his brain to decide precisely what everyone else what should do with their abilities and wealth. And because the do-gooder is so confident that his plans are good for humanity, he strives to impose his will with a stick, be it regulatory, monetary, or via public brow-beating.”  

An unconstitutional speech code.

Nevada’s Bar, however, may have finally reached the apex of do-gooding thanks to a petition filed May 8th asking the state supreme court to adopt the new ABA Model Rule 8.4(g) which amends Nevada Rule 8.4 by adding an entirely new subsection (g). It reads:

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: . . . (g) engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socioeconomic status related to the practice of lawThis paragraph does not limit the ability of a lawyer to accept, decline or withdraw from a representation in accordance with Rule 1.16.  This paragraph does not preclude legitimate advice or advocacy consistent with these Rules.

No jurisdiction has yet adopted the ABA 8.4 (g) model rule concoction passed last fall. Nevada hopes to be first.

Meanwhile, the amendment hits Boerman’s do-gooder regulatory, monetary and public brow-beating trifecta. Violations mean notoriety. Regulatory sanctions impact a lawyer’s ability to earn a living.

Academics like UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh and South Texas College of Law Professor Josh Blackman have weighed in against the proposed rule on constitutional grounds. The Attorneys General of Texas and South Carolina have also officially opined that a court would likely conclude ABA Model Rule 8.4(g) not only amounts to an unconstitutional restriction on the free speech, free exercise of religion, and freedom of association of attorneys but it’s also unconstitutionally overbroad and void for vagueness. See Opinion No. KP-0123, Attorney General of Texas and 14 South Carolina Attorney General Opinion.

Other commentators contend that by only proscribing speech that is derogatory, demeaning, or harmful toward members of certain designated classes, the Rule is an unconstitutional content-based speech restriction. Others argue attorney conscience rights are also adversely implicated.

Professor Blackman further raises separation of powers problems when bar disciplinary authorities lacking the “boundless discretion over all aspects of an attorney’s life” nevertheless attempt to regulate conduct beyond their legal power or authority.

More bar complaints.

But the real upshot is heightened lawyer liability when state bar disciplinary police are given unprecedented new powers to punish lawyers for conduct not directly connected with what ethical rule 8.4 already prohibits, which is misconduct while representing a client or implicating fitness to practice or prejudicing the administration of justice. The new rule enlarges the scope to include social conferences, bar association activities and private speech far removed from providing actual legal services.

As Professor Blackman further wrote in The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics about Model Rule 8.4(g):

“Lectures and debates hosted by bar associations that offer Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits are necessarily held “in connection with the practice of law.” Lawyers are required to attend such classes to maintain their law licenses. It is not difficult to imagine how certain topics could reasonably be found by attendees to be “derogatory or demeaning” on the basis of one of the eleven protected classes in Rule 8.4(g).

Blackman lists sample topics chosen as he says for their “deliberate provocativeness” where a lawyer attendee might subject herself to discipline since the speaker “reasonably should know” that someone at the event could find the remarks disparaging towards one of the eleven protected groups.” Here are a few:

“● Race—A speaker discusses “mismatch theory,” and contends that race based affirmative action should be banned because it hurts minority students by placing them in education settings where they have a lower chance of success.
● Gender—A speaker argues that women should not be eligible for combat duty in the military, and should continue to be excluded from the selective service requirements.
● Religion—A speaker states that the owners of a for-profit corporation who request a religious exemption from the contraceptive mandate are bigoted and misogynistic.
● National Origin—A speaker contends that the plenary power doctrine permits the government to exclude aliens from certain countries that are deemed dangerous.
● Ethnicity—A speaker states that Korematsu v. United States sas correctly decided, and that during times of war, the President should be able to exclude individuals based on their ethnicity.
● Sexual Orientation—A speaker contends that Obergefell v. Hodges was incorrectly decided, and that the Fourteenth Amendment does not prohibit classifications on the basis of sexual orientation.”

All of which means an amended Nevada Rule 8.4 will unwisely empower a mandatory bar to extend existing lawyer First Amendment encroachments upon new terrains of unconstitutional discipline.

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The Nevada Supreme Court invites written comment from the bench, bar, and public regarding the proposed amendments. The Hearing date is July 17, 2017, at 2:30 p.m., Supreme Court Courtroom, 408 East Clark Avenue, Las Vegas, Nevada 89101. The Comment deadline is July 5, 2017, at 5:00 p.m., Supreme Court Clerk’s Office, 201 South Carson Street, Carson City, Nevada 89701.


Photo Credits: “Psychic,” by The She-Creature at Flickr Attribution;  “Satisfaction,” by Walter Kramer at Flickr Attribution; “aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh,” by Marco Boscolo at Flickr Attribution;”Tread Upon Now What?” by John Eisenschenk at Flickr Attribution; “kindness, persuasion, punishment,” by Meagan Fisher at Flickr Attribution.

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Longtime readers know I like movies. They’re fun as a stand-alone proposition.

But movie-going is almost essential when Arizona’s solar-intensifying sprummer has come, gone, and Satan’s excessive heat warning says it’s 109 outside. Overnight it ‘cools down’ to the high 90’s.

So when outdoor activity partners with heat stroke, getting out often means movies. This weekend, it was Wonder Woman — highly enjoyable and big fun. Although I enjoy all genres, there’s nothing like a well done action film.

As some of you know, I’ve also seen my share of movies featuring lawyer protagonists. Admittedly, it’s been a while since there was one I liked. The Lincoln Lawyer is perhaps the last one I thought entertaining — but that was 6 years ago.

It’s not like I rush to see movies featuring lawyers. Quite the opposite. I think most are to be avoided. 2014’s The Judge was awful.

Nearly always they get the law and the ethics wrong. For instance, I missed last year’s The Whole Truth, starring that latter-day Olivier, the wooden thespian known as Keanu Reeves. I’m sorry to say I finally caught it online.

Of The Whole Truth, movie critic Rex Reed said, “A guaranteed cure for insomnia, an abomination called The Whole Truth is a courtroom movie that looks like a colorized version of an old Perry Mason TV show, starring Renée Zellweger’s new face and Keanu Reeves, who has the charisma and animated visual appeal of a mud fence.” Keanu plays that over-used movie stereotype, the ethically challenged criminal defense lawyer.

And why always an ethically challenged defense lawyer? Why not an amoral ERISA or corrupt water rights lawyer? In truth it’s probably because ERISA and water rights lawyers would have to arm-wrestle to avoid the title of most boring field of practice.

In any event, Keanu’s much better as pup-loving legendary hitman John Wick not as a lawyer. Just the same, I admit to liking his turn as the lawyer son of Satan in The Devil’s Advocate.

Recliner movie watching.

Glenn Whipp amusingly reported this past Friday that theater chains have “decided that the best way to sell tickets is to replicate moviegoers’ living rooms.” See “When moviegoers treat theaters like living rooms — texting, talking, even diaper changing happens.”

It’s true. Recliners have arrived at the cineplex, including the one in our neighborhood. I’m not sure, however, that Wonder Woman was better because my feet were up. The Whole Truth, on the other hand, is a different matter. The recliner would’ve meant In dormis delicto.

Fortunately, the movie-going pleasure of Wonder Woman was mostly unmarred unlike other recent movie experiences involving serial chatterboxes and obsessive texters. Save for a movie patron twice checking his cellphone two rows in front, we escaped Glenn Whipp’s exponentially worse experience with the in-the-theater toddler diaper-changing mother. “Because,” as Whipp explained, “that’s what those adjustable armrests are for, right?”

And that Bill Kilgore is not the smell of napalm in the morning.

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Photo Credits: Empty cinema movie theater, by Iwan Gabovitch  at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; First movie of the year, recliner chair theater, by stupid systemus at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.

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Note: The following story was originally published by ProPublica, “an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.” It is republished with permission.

The behavior of Bill Kephart, who led the murder prosecution of Fred Steese, was repeatedly lambasted by the Supreme Court of Nevada. But that didn’t stop him from becoming a judge. This month he was charged with misconduct in that position too.

by Megan Rose, ProPublica

May 26, 2017

In the legal world, prosecutors are rarely called out by name. Their misconduct is usually attributed to unidentified prosecutors or the “State” in rulings by appellate judges. But as a Las Vegas prosecutor, Bill Kephart — now a judge — achieved a dubious distinction: He was chastised publicly.

The Supreme Court of Nevada took the rare step in 2001 of ordering him to prove why he shouldn’t be sanctioned for his behavior in one of his cases with a fine or a referral to the state bar for “violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.” The ruling was disseminated statewide and, in Kephart’s own words, “professionally embarrassed” him. In his response, he wrote that the ruling had “already had a great impact” on him and promised that there wouldn’t be “a bona fide allegation of prosecutorial misconduct against me in the future.” The justices nevertheless fined him $250.

Fred Steese served more than 20 years in prison for murder even though evidence in the prosecution’s files proved he didn’t do it. But when the truth came to light, he was offered a confounding deal. Read the story.

The Supreme Court’s rebuke was particularly notable in Nevada, where the judges are elected and part of the state’s insular legal community. They typically rule unanimously and seldom come down too hard on prosecutors. As one retired chief justice put it: “Picking fights with district attorneys might not be the best thing for [a judge’s] career continuation.” But Kephart’s behavior challenged that status quo, compelling one or more of the justices to issue dissents in several cases, saying his behavior called for convictions to be overturned.

Overall, the Nevada high court has noted prosecutorial misconduct in at least five of his cases over a dozen years, not including his actions during the trial of Fred Steese — who was tried by Kephart for a 1992 murder and ruled innocent 20 years later after exculpatory evidence was found in the prosecution’s files. In the cases in which Kephart is not named, he is the prosecutor whose misconduct is cited:

  • In 1996, the court noted “several instances of prosecutorial misconduct” in a sexual assault case. The conviction was upheld, but one justice dissented, saying that Kephart had “infected” an already “muddled case” and it warranted reversal. (In 2001, a judge granted the defendant an evidentiary hearing and he was released.)
  • In 1997, the court reversed the murder convictions of two men based entirely on the “deliberate” and “improper comments” made by the prosecution during cross examination and closing argument. The DA’s office had sought the death penalty, which in Nevada increases costs by about a half million dollars on average, making this and other reversals based on Kephart’s behavior expensive screw-ups for taxpayers. (Both men were retried and convicted again in 1998, one sentenced to life in prison and the other to death.)
  • In 2001, in the case he was fined $250, the court said Kephart gave the jury a misleading explanation of the standard for reasonable doubt when he instructed them: “you have a gut feeling he’s guilty, he’s guilty.” A justice said at a hearing that the remark seemed “like deliberate misrepresentation.” The court upheld the conviction, but noted that Kephart’s “improper remark was particularly reprehensible because this is a capital case and the remark was gratuitous and patently inadequate to convey to the jury its duty…”
  • In 2002, the court took issue with Kephart for assaulting a witness. During the trial of a sexual assault case, Kephart said he wanted to demonstrate how the victim said she was choked, pressing his forearm into the defendant’s neck while he was on the stand. The court upheld the verdict, but noted there was “absolutely no reason” for Kephart’s behavior, which went “well beyond the accepted bounds of permissible advocacy.” One justice dissented, saying “the instances of prosecutorial misconduct were pervasive and substantial…an accused who takes the stand runs many risks. One of them should not be that the prosecutor would physically assault him or her.”
  • In 2008, the court tossed out a murder conviction in another death penalty case, saying, among other issues, the prosecution’s misconduct was “significant” and “occurred throughout the trial,” including Kephart’s remarks during jury selection and in closing. One judge dissented, saying the prosecutorial misconduct and other issues didn’t require reversal. (The defendant eventually pled guilty in 2014.)

In 2002, Kephart prosecuted another highly contested murder case against Kirstin Lobato, then 19, which has garnered national outcry for the meager and sometimes contradictory evidence against her. Lobato was recently granted an evidentiary hearing and is represented by the Innocence Project. This month, the prosecuting officer for the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline filed misconduct charges against Kephart for a media interview he gave about the case last year, in which he said it “was completely justice done.” Kephart’s “statements could affect the outcome or impair the fairness of Miss Lobato’s case,” according to the formal statement of charges. The statement said Kephart violated several rules of the judicial code of conduct. He has not yet filed a reply.

Kephart, who joined the DA’s office in the early 1990s as a brash young attorney, once got in a shoving match with a defense attorney. Another time a judge had to admonish him for repeatedly shaking his head, making faces and rolling his eyes. His behavior eventually led to minor reprimands from the Clark County District Attorney’s Office, according to several people who worked with him during that time. In 2002, after Kephart’s reasonable-doubt flub, the entire DA’s office had to complete a two-hour ethics course and continuing legal education classes, which the deputy district attorneys tagged the “Kephart CLE.” That same year, Kephart was briefly banned from trials. Regardless, he later became a chief deputy.

Kephart also was called before the state bar for his behavior in Steese’s murder trial, but, according to lawyers at the hearing, his boss made an appeal on behalf of him and the other prosecutor on the case, and neither was sanctioned.

Kephart declined several requests for comment.

Despite these repeated critiques of his conduct, Kephart was voted onto the bench in 2010 as a justice of the peace and in 2014 moved to the Eighth Judicial District Court of Nevada, where he today he presides over civil, construction and criminal cases.

Update, May 31, 2017: In his official written response to the disciplinary commission, Kephart has denied charges that he violated judicial canons with his remarks to the media about an open case. His response said that he had “participated in interim rehabilitation by taking classes,” and the commission should consider his honest motives, clean judicial disciplinary record, and “character and reputation.”

Megan Rose covers the military for ProPublica. Previously she was the national correspondent at Stars and Stripes.

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A month from now, it’ll be exam time. Not an oral exam — but the July bar exam administered the last week of the month everywhere except for Wisconsin, which has the “diploma privilege.”[1]

For the rest of the states, including the District of Columbia, this year’s May crop of law school graduates will be tested to satisfy “what bar examiners have always posited as the bar exam’s purpose, i.e. minimum competence to practice law unsupervised.”[2]

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/t/taliesin/preview/fldr_2008_11_02/file0001110781475.jpgMeanwhile, law school applications continue to fall.[3] And as law schools vie for a dwindling number of enrollees, some schools are competing for cheeks in the seats by cutting admissions and by lowering admission standards.

Bar exam scores are also plummeting at some schools. So questions are naturally arising on whether falling exam scores are attributable to a decline in law school standards.

Driven in my view mostly by self-preservation, “frustrated law school deans” are suddenly complaining to anyone who will listen about the exam. Their criticism of bar exam methods and mechanics is largely unprecedented. One law school dean went as far as calling the bar exam “an unpredictable and unacceptable impediment for accessibility to the legal profession.” See “Bar Exam, the Standard to Become a Lawyer, Comes Under Fire.”

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/s/Sgarton/09/l/1379295120ysjr3.jpgNot to be missed, however, is how one school is trying to slow their own nosediving exam scores. Charlotte Law School’s Assistant Dean of Student Success employed four-letter exhortations to her professors serving as bar prep coaches. Straddled with Charlotte’s abysmal bar passage rates, Assistant Dean Odessa Alm admonished the professors to insist on more urgency from their graduates. “We’re not cheerleaders. We’re coaches. ‘Get down on the f***ing floor and give me 40. You’re going to run more laps.’ That’s what a coach is. A coach is not a cheerleader.” See “Recordings Shed Light On Charlotte School Of Law’s Methods To Boost Bar Passage.”

In 2014, with scores falling, the Iowa State Bar Association looked for another remedy. It proposed an in-state “diploma privilege” like its Wisconsin neighbor. But the Iowa Supreme Court closed the door on the proposal opting to keep the bar exam in place. According to one news report, “Critics said it was a way for Iowa law schools to boost enrollment, which has been falling in recent years.” Also see “As schools lower standards, more flunk the Iowa bar.”

And in a step akin to moving the iceberg closer to the Titanic, the American Bar Association (ABA) put law schools on notice last year that it intended to tighten the deadline rule for graduates to pass state bar exams. Yeah, full steam ahead.

According to data compiled by the Internet Legal Research Group, the bottom ten law schools with the worse bar passage rates reflecting first-time test takers for the summer 2014 and winter 2015 bar examinations were:

1. Appalachian School of Law                                 33.3%
2. Thomas Jefferson School of Law                      44.7%
3. Golden Gate University Law School                45.1%
4. Mississippi College                                                 45.8%
5. Whittier Law School                                               45.9%
6. U. of the District of Columbia                             52.2%
7. Liberty University                                                   52.8%
8. Ave Maria School of Law                                      54.4%
9. Arizona Summit Law School                              54.7%
10. Southern University                                              55.8%

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/28/Pieter_Codde_-_Young_Scholar_in_His_Study_-_Melancholy_-_WGA05115.jpg/356px-Pieter_Codde_-_Young_Scholar_in_His_Study_-_Melancholy_-_WGA05115.jpgSince the report, life hasn’t gotten any easier for some of the listed schools. Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that“due in part to low student achievement,” Whittier Law School was closing. And earlier this month, Arizona Summit Law School in Phoenix was put on probation by the ABA after just 24.6 percent of its graduates who took the Arizona state bar exam for the first time in July 2016 passed.

In California, after the state’s bar exam passage score fell to a 32-year low, the deans of 20 California law schools wrote the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court asking that the minimum or cut score needed to pass its bar examination be lowered to allow a higher pass rate.

In truth, with apologies to John Randolph, the mackerel have been shining and ripening in the moonlight for sometime. Declining law school enrollments; falling admission standards; and collapsing bar passage rates are mere symptoms.

Until the legal establishment makes a substantive, detached, top-to-bottom assessment of what’s ailing the profession, the diagnosis will be incomplete; the medication will be misprescribed; and the patient will remain as sick as ever.

 

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[1]”Under diploma privilege, graduates of the University of Wisconsin Law School and Marquette University Law School are admitted to the practice of law by complying with the terms of SCR 40.03 — their school certifies their legal competence and the Board of Bar Examiners certifies their character and fitness for the practice of law.”

[2]Kristin Booth Glen, Thinking out of the Bar Exam Box: A Proposal to “MacCrate ” Entry to the Profession, 23 Pace L. Rev. 343 (2003)

[3] As of March 31, 2017, the total number of applicants was down 1.9 percent. See Karen Sloan, Number of LSAT Takers is Up, But Law School Applications Are Down, April 7, 2017.

Photo Credits: Oral exam, by Ben Sutherland at Flickr Creative Commons attribution; Quiet Please Testing, morguefile.com; stdy break, by nerissa’s ring at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Young Scholar in His Study: Melancholy by Pieter Codde, Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Long-jawed mackerel by Christian Gloor at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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