In the first instance, attorney-client privilege required two attorneys not to reveal information, obtained from their own client, that would exonerate an accused innocent man. That man spent 26 years in prison.
The first two comments to that post are especially sharp.
So, they were willing to let a man they know to be innocent spend his life in prison, to protect a man they know is guilty and free, but if there had been a death sentence, they '... thought that somehow they might stop it' ?? When ? After 20 years on death row ? Or perhaps on the gurney ? Or maybe come to the 'ethical decision' to let him die ?
Sorry, campers - there is something terribly wrong with a 'system of ethics' so twisted, so amoral, as to not only permit, but demand, this. That is not 'ethics', that is 'perversion'.
As a non-lawyer to whom their behavior seems incredibly unethical (and a professional in a field whose canon of ethics includes a term defining a positive obligation to disclose information to prevent harm), I've got to ask:
Why do lawyer ethics require that outcome? Doesn't what they did make them accomplices to a false imprisonment, akin to kidnapping?
You wonder how those two attorneys slept at night.
In the second case, a reporter is in jail and facing steep daily fines for not revealing sources to a court.
A federal judge has ordered a former USA TODAY reporter to begin paying fines of up to $5,000 per day after finding her in contempt of court for failing to identify sources who named former Army scientist Steven Hatfill as a possible suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks.
The decision late Friday night by U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton also requires Toni Locy — not her former employer or others — to pay the fines as long as she refuses to identify her sources.
I know, I know, journalists think they're entitled by the 1st Amendment to keep secrets. They're mistaken.
Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit fame has penned an opinion piece on the topic in USA Today.
Ordinarily, people are required to respond to subpoenas by providing information... Likewise, if ordinary people witness a crime, they can be required to testify about it.
Journalists, however, claim a special status: They argue that complying with subpoenas in ways that would identify their sources might make people less likely to confide in them in the future. There are two problems with this argument: The first is that the Constitution doesn't require it. The second is that we're all journalists now.
I don't understand why Reynolds, a law professor, merely flirts with the real issue--the Constitution.
The Constitution allows the press to publish whatever it wants, with no prior restraint and with only the slimmest of restrictions. Nowhere does the 1st Amendment give members of the press, however we define that group, free rein to gather that information. Reporters aren't allowed to break the speed limit to get to a breaking news site, they're required to stay behind the "Police Line--Do Not Cross" tape unless invited, and cannot compel people to speak.
The 1st Amendment doesn't require that every hurdle be removed from the path of reporters. News organizations pay taxes, correct? People who make a living reporting the news pay taxes as well. I'd say that taxing an activity is clearly a form of regulation. Obviously, the 1st Amendment is not a carte blanche.
In other words, the 1st Amendment press freedom relates to publishing. This is why the 1st Amendment applies equally to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal as it does to bloggers, just as in colonial days it applied to newspapermen as well as to pamphleteers. Disseminating the information is what's protected.
Newspapermen claim they won't be able to get information in the future if they can't keep their sources confidential. I agree with Reynolds when he says:
Complying with subpoenas might make journalists' lives more difficult, but lots of industries are burdened by having to comply with the law.So we have two cases here in which so-called professional ethics present disturbing ends. In the first, laws required attorneys to let an innocent man languish in prison, and in the second, a misguided belief in a "right" or privilege that doesn't exist (except where codified in shield laws) is causing a reporter to go broke in jail.
Journalists usually aren't terribly sympathetic to those industries' complaints. We should be no more sympathetic to reporters' special pleading.
Is there ever a time when we just have to sit back and ask: What does your gut tell you is the right thing to do?