I am in the midst of an ethical dilemma. Attorneys are expected… no, required, to hold themselves out to the public as paragons of virtue, as pillars of society who live a morally and ethically sound life 24/7. Just hearing the word “ethics” evokes thoughts of the legal community, the attorney-client privilege, the rules of fair play and proper procedure. And of honesty and integrity. As attorneys we have a responsibility to the public to conduct ourselves so as to set an example of the respectable lives that can be led by upstanding and decent people.
And yet I am conflicted because of this duty that expects so much of me, but which does not allow for gray areas or wiggle room. Sure there are exceptions. Attorneys are permitted to violate their ethical obligations of confidentiality when necessary to prevent a crime which they reasonably believe will occur and cause great harm. But it still has to be an egregious situation with a real expectation that the crime will be committed if the confidence is not breached. But if the crime has already been committed? No such privilege– failing to confirm the existence of criminal activity is not only ethically deficient, it could also be criminal in its own right.
Thus, my dilemma. What if the criminal is your own family member? Sure, a victimless crime, no one was hurt, but a crime nonetheless. And where my cooperation has been requested by the authorities trying to put an end to such conduct? Do I request immunity from the government and turn state’s evidence? Or do I turn a blind eye and resist the urge to do my duty?
The internal struggle is great and the angel and devil on my shoulders make persuasive arguments. Laws have been enacted to protect society, whether they be laws to punish intentional conduct leading to injury to others or laws simply to regulate society and ensure safety. But they are laws and we as a society are not permitted to pick and choose those laws that we wish to follow. We are required to follow all of the laws and a crime has been committed here… what does an attorney do?
On a recent family vacation out of the state, a vehicle registered to my family was allegedly utilized in connection with a crime… speeding. A serious offense when traveling 50 in a 45. The problem is, the driver was not the registered owner of the vehicle. It would have gone unknown except for the use of traffic cameras which recorded the crime and photographed the culprit. So where is the dilemma if it wasn’t either of the registered owners driving the vehicle? The state in which the offense took place has requested my assistance in identifying the driver so that all due prosecution takes place. The state has requested that I turn stool pigeon and rat out someone potentially near and dear to me…
It is a Catch-22 of epic proportions. If I cooperate I risk sending a close relation to the big house, the hoosegow, the graybar motel, the slammer, the icebox, the clink. If I don’t cooperate, I turn my back on the oath I swore to uphold and promote the perception that it is acceptable to overlook crimes when it serves a purpose of protecting someone close to you. That is definitely not the message I want to send. I have a responsibility as an attorney. I have a responsibility.
A more pressing issue arose in this respect just this past week. If you are not aware, a brutal and unconscionable attack of a Giants fan took place Thursday after the Dodgers Opening Day game. The Giants fan was so viciously attacked that he is still in critical condition and a medically-induced coma. And yet a ballgame attended by 56,000 people and no one saw a thing. No witnesses have come forward, no perpetrators have been arrested. I would hate to think that no one has come forward because it was a Giants fan who was attacked. Did he get what he deserved? Do we need to protect our fellow Dodger fan?
No– it was embarrassing to me as a Dodger fan and as a firm believer that Chavez Ravine is hallowed ground… hallowed ground that has been desecrated not only by the conduct of unruly and ignorant fans, but by the passersby and witnesses who have not come forward. It is embarrassing and atrocious.
Makes my dilemma seem like child’s play. Rat out a family member for speeding? Or report a heinous crime to the police…
You have to do the right thing. The right thing is the only choice. The right thing is the only choi…
Wait a second, I don’t even practice in that other state…
Have a great week.