life with sticks in one's head

no defined professional misconduct for government lawyers?

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Going to quote Eric Effron’s editorial from The Week in its entirety, because parts of the website (including the part with this editorial in it) are locked to non-subscribers.

“Is ‘legal ethics’ an oxymoron? Having covered legal affiars earlier in my career, that question always struck me as clever but not entirely fair. Bar associations have elaborate mechanisms for policing ethical lapses, and ethics are debated at law schools and in semminars for practicing lawyers. But the lawyer-bashers were handed fresh ammo last week when the Justice Department found that Bush administration attorneys who’d ginned up the legal rationale to justify waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques were guilty of nothing more than ‘poor judgment’. The lawyers were wrong on the law, Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis concluded, and they obligingly told their clients exactly what they wanted to hear. But it was all, somehow, ethical. // How can this be? Margolis ruled that the federal government — unlike the private bar — has never clearly defined professional misconduct for lawyers, so it would be unfair to punish lawyers who apparently were doing what they thought was right. That’s an interesting standard. For whoever is in power, as legal analyst Andrew Cohen noted, it’s highly convenient that there are no binding ethical standards for government lawyers: You can just ask them to concoct a legal justification for some dubious policy goal — such as giving the green light to waterboarding, or ignoring the Geneva Conventions. We like to imagine that our leaders are bound by the rule of law. But if thousands of government lawyers are bound only by what they or their bosses believe is right, then ‘the rule of law’ might be the biggest oxymoron of them all.”

I have a very hard time accepting Margolis’ claim that there are no binding ethical standards for government lawyers. By very hard time, I mean I really can not bring myself to believe it is true. I don’t however, know how to find out other than to ask a government lawyer, which is what I have plans to do….


Written by sticksinthehead

27 February 2010 at 8:01 pm

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