Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

Trump’s business interests and the Emoluments Clause

Given the complex ongoing dealings between the Trump Organization and foreign governments, the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution will require Congress to “decide what it is willing to live with in the way of Trump conflicts” — and it should draw those lines before the fact, not after. That’s what I argue in a new Philadelphia Inquirer piece. Excerpt:

…Trump points out that the president is exempt from the conflict-of-interest laws that bind Congress and the judiciary, but that doesn’t mean he will escape scrutiny from public opinion or from the body of federal law as a whole, including the Emoluments Clause.

That clause reads in relevant part: “And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States] , shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”…

The wording of the clause itself points one way to resolution: Congress can give consent, as it did in the early years of the Republic to presents received by Ben Franklin and John Jay. …

…it can’t be good for America to generate a series of possible impeachable offenses from a running stream of controversies about whether arm’s-length prices were charged in transactions petty or grand. …

There is no doubt that doing the right thing poses genuine difficulties for Trump not faced by other recent presidents. If he signals that he understands the nature of the problem, it would not be unreasonable to ask for extra time to solve it.

For more detail, Randall Eliason has a helpful explainer, e.g. on why Emoluments Clause issues do not map well onto the concept of “bribery.” (Bribery is subject to a separate ban, while both presents and some other payments can violate the Emoluments Clause even if given and received with the purest of motives.)

Update: With Trump’s announcement this morning that he intends to step back from management involvement with the Trump Organization, I’ve adapted this post into a longer piece at Cato at Liberty on what comes next. I quote Prof. Bainbridge, who’s got a second round of observations here.

Yet more: memos shed light on how the Department of Justice has construed the obligations of the Emoluments Clause over many decades. And the Washington Examiner, which recently welcomed Tim Carney as new opinion editor, suggests an “occluded trust.”

Where a conflict of interest policy for prosecutors would have helped

The city of Woodbury, Minn. employs a local law firm on contract to “prosecute certain criminal matters on the City’s behalf.” Lawyers from this firm filed a criminal action against Mr. Sample over an alleged domestic assault even as, at the same time, the firm was representing his alleged victim in civil actions including a restraining order. It “later asked another firm to prosecute the criminal case against Sample [on the grounds] that it had a conflict of interest.” Mr. Sample’s later section 1983 suit alleged that the law firm’s dual role at the time of the filing had violated his constitutional rights; the Eighth Circuit ruled that the prosecutors themselves enjoyed absolute personal immunity, but — such immunity not extending to towns — ordered further consideration of Sample’s claim that the town should be liable for not instituting a conflict-of-interest policy that would have headed off the problem before it happened. [Sample v. City of Woodbury et al.]

“My inference is that the ABA wants to … limit lawyers’ expression of viewpoints that it disapproves of.”

Eugene Volokh on troubling implications for speech of the American Bar Association’s new adoption of rules declaring it a professional responsibility violation for lawyers to express bias in various ways, including in the course of “law-related social activities.” More: ABA Journal, Ron Rotunda/WSJ, Stephen Bainbridge.

Proposal: traditional legal ethics should yield to climate interests

Speaking of infringements on what is now the scope of attorney-client privilege, an Oregon law professor has proposed to make environmental protection part of lawyers’ ethical duties. [Daily Climate; Tom Lininger, “Green Ethics for Lawyers,” Boston College Law Review, 2016; Scott Greenfield] Some backers hope the idea will encourage lawyers representing the fossil fuel industry, in particular, to disregard conventional attorney duties of loyalty to clients; indeed, it might someday serve as grounds for them to be disciplined if they refrain from betraying client interests in various situations.

A note on Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis

Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee responds as follows to a federal judge’s contempt finding against Rowan County clerk Kim Davis:

Henceforth when I think of Gov. Mike Huckabee it will be as someone unfamiliar with the legal concept of contempt of court. Gabriel Malor has dissected Huckabee’s enthusiasm for a purported right to defy SCOTUS rulings.

Kim Davis purges the contempt if she either carries out her public duties or quits her public office. So she is not in jail for refusing to violate her religion, unless her religion requires her to keep her public job (cool religion!). And while the traditional contempt power of the Anglo-American courts does generate various disturbing results — jailing dads for breaking a court order to see their kids, for example — pressure to resign a public office rates, to me, fairly low on the scale.

Speaking for myself, if my lawyers encouraged me to commit contempt of court, I might begin to wonder whose side they were on. Kim Davis’s Liberty Counsel lawyers, of course, were at the center of the extraordinary Miller-Jenkins case, much covered at this site, in which a client not only defied a court order but kidnapped a child along the way. And from Michelle Meyer, professional obligations of lawyers counseling clients re: contempt. (N.B.: Staver says Liberty Counsel “would never counsel a client to violate the law.”)

Plus: As Chris Geidner notes at BuzzFeed, Kentucky does not provide for recall of county clerks or removal by the governor for official misconduct. And Carly Fiorina, grown-up in the room: “when you are a government employee, I think you take on a different role.”

P.S. In general, courts have a range of remedial options when faced with contempt, such as fines. Their discretion is bounded by various factors; for example, they are not supposed to resort to harsher remedies if milder ones would obtain compliance. Many of the comparisons being bandied about, by the way, involve officials who were defying some law but were not themselves personally under a court order not to do so.

A curious argument making the rounds posits it as somehow relevant that marriage law changed after Davis won elected office, supposedly upsetting her reliance on expectations of what duties she would be called on to perform. That’s not really a legal question, in the sense of casting any doubt on whether she is expected to follow the laws of Kentucky and the United States in current form if she wants to hold office. It’s more of a union shop steward’s argument — “you can’t change my job duties unless you bargain with me first.”

And: Thoughtful Dan McLoughlin what-goes-around-comes-around on lawlessness, Kim Davis, and the pervasiveness of double standards.

How Jim Hood acted a Hollywood role against Google

We’ve covered this topic before, but Mike Masnick at Techdirt has a slew of revealing new details on how Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood acted as cat’s paw for Hollywood studios in his legal battles against Google. Former Mississippi attorney general Michael Moore, another longtime Overlawyered favorite, plays a key role in the story as well. Our coverage of Hood’s work over many years is here.