Public discourse has taken a turn for the worse. Things are so bad that criticism of federal judges has become common place. Last week, Pres. Trump spoke about the Ninth Circuit in demeaning terms, clearly saying the Ninth Circuit attracts lawsuits against his policies and is likely to rule against him. A few days later, Roger Stone, a long-time adviser to Mr. Trump, posts a photo of U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson with cross hairs in the background. He posts the photo on his Instagram account. He later deleted the photo.

Mr. Stone posted the picture the same day the judge issued a ruling against one of his motions, and a few days after the judge imposed a gag order on the political consultant. Mr. Stone and his lawyer submitted a filing apologizing for the incident. Mr. Stone claims a “volunteer” posted the photo. See Politico news report.

How does a person “accidentally” post a threatening picture of a judge? Indeed, why would a person deliberately antagonize a judge who will decide your future? I suspect Mr. Stone sees this as strategy, as a way to provoke the judge into making a mistake. Or, perhaps it is just his nature to poke the bear. Regardless, we can be certain his lawyer did not recommend posting any picture of the judge for any reason.

The President has been attacking federal judges for years. It started when Pres. Trump started attacking U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Paul Curiel in 2016, saying the “Mexican” judge could not be impartial regardingTrump University. Later, the same judge heard arguments regarding environmental restrictions in regard to the wall. The President atacked Judge Curiel, not once, not twice, but several times at his rallies. Eventually, the judge did indeed allow the environmental restrictions to be lifted for the precious wall. But, the President did not apologize. Neither dd he ever mention that Judge Curiel was born in Indiana, not in Mexico.

As we said in the Army, it all starts with the guy at the top.

One of the more difficult problems for employers is harassment by unknown co-workers. The law was designed for harassment by supervisors. It functions not so well when the harassment is caused by co-workers. In Tolliver v. YRC, Inc., No. 17-10294, 2018 US LEXIS 17806 (5th Cir. 6/28/2018), African-American workers were harassed in various ways for over 15 years. The black workers encountered racist graffiti, nooses, and other incidents. The district court refused to allow evidence of incidents which occurred beyond the 300 day limitations period. So, the court only addressed two incidents, a noose left in YRC facilities and racist graffiti left on a YRC truck. It was not known who committed these acts.

The court found these two incidents were not sufficiently pervasive or severe to amount to a hostile work environment. The court noted that the plaintiffs did not contend that the two incidents were directed toward them. And, said the court, “for the most part,” the plaintiffs learned of the two incidents second-hand.

But, even if the two incidents were sufficiently severe or pervasive, management took prompt and remedial action. The company posted a $25,000 reward for information about the incidents. It interviewed hundreds of employees. It hired security guards, and it contacted law enforcement. The employer also provided weekly reminders about its non-discrimination policies. The employer did not discipline anyone, because the perpetrators were not found.

As the court added, Title VII is not a behavior code. It prohibits discrimination. Essentially the court is saying Title VII does not require the employer to deeply investigate acts of apparent racism. Most courts require reasonably swift action, and not much more than asking employees if they know who committed the acts. This decision is in line with those prior authorities. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment. See the decision here.

The battle over whether individual arbitration agreements can prevent class actions was settled with the decision in Epic Systems v. Lewis, 138 S.Ct. 1612 (2018). That decision found that workers who signed individual arbitration agreements with his/her employer could not later file suit as a class or collective action. Employers viewed this decision favorably. But, now, maybe not so much.

See what has happened with what was intended to be a collective action against Chipotle. In 2014, Chipotle started requiring workers to sign arbitration agreements. Some 2800 Chipotle workers signed mandatory arbitration agreements. They tried to file a collective action in Denver based U.S. district court. Chipotle invoked the individual arbitration agreements. The judge agreed the claims should be heard in arbitration. But, then Chipotle tried to bar the plaintiff law firm from representing the individual plaintiffs in arbitration. The employer’s rationale was that since the workers received notices of a collective action from the law firm, that law firm should not represent them. In some way, argued the Chioptle lawyers, the plaintiff law firm had compromised the interests of the potential plaintiffs. The court quickly dispensed with that specious argument. See Reuters news report.

The defense lawyers warned the judge that there may be thousands of follow-on arbitrations. The lawyers suggested the plaintiff law firm had tried to leverage thousands of arbitrations to protect its lawsuit. But, replied, the judge, “Absent more concrete evidence of legal incompetence or evidence demonstrating a clear pattern of abuse of the judicial process, I will not interfere with the arbitration plaintiffs’ right to choice of counsel.” In other words, the judge said the employees can pick the counsel they desire.

Chipotle incurs a fee of $1100 per employee, just to file the arbitration. JAMS is providing the arbitration services and their rules require the employer to pay the fees. That ruling in Denver federal court occurred in April, 2018.

Now, in December, 2018 some 150 of those workers dropped their attempted collective action and re-filed individual arbitration claims. So far, Chipotle has refused to pay much of those fees. The plaintiff law firm notes the individual claims amount to no more than about $1,000 per worker. Ordinarily, the plaintiff lawyers would not be interested in pursuing those claims. But, since they worked up much of the evidence for what they thought would be a collective action, they have pursued these 150 claims. See Huffington post here.

And look what happened to a Florida paving contractor in 2018. There were three claimants in that arbitration. The contractor was eventually hit with a bill for $100,000 in arbitral fees. Those three former employees also tried to sue in federal court first. The employer refused to pay the fees and tried to go back to federal court. Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.

 

Lawyers are not supposed to make things worse for their clients and we definitely are not supposed to wager our law licenses on a particular outcome.  Yet, in the Paul Manafort legal melodrama, that seems to be exactly what has occurred. Paul Manafort entered into a plea bargain agreement with the Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller. Yet, at the same time, his lawyers also talked with the Trump legal team. Rudy Giuliani said the Manafort lawyers discussed the Mueller probe with Trump’s lawyers. They gained valuable insights, added the former New York City mayor. That is a remarkable admission.

Mr. Giuliani said the Trump lawyers “grilled” Kevin Downing, lawyer for Mr. Manafort, about whether the President knew about the 2016 meeting with the Russians at Trump Tower. See Axios report. And, in fact, that was one of the areas of questions posed to the President by the Mueller team.

Mr. Manafort’s lawyers engaged in those discussions with persons who could grant Manafort a pardon. That suggests the Manafort lawyers were motivated by a desire for a pardon. That suggests the President and his legal team may have suborned perjury. Suborning perjury means to bribe or somehow induce a person to commit perjury. It is a crime. Legal experts have expressed surprise that the lawyers for Manaofort and Mueller would put their law licenses at risk that way. See The Hill news report.

And, of course, at about the same time as all this information emerges, Pres. Trump said he would not rule out granting Manafort a pardon, making it clear a pardon was possible. The president has in effect dangled a dog bone of a pardon before the panting Manafort. Yet, Pres. Trump’s lawyers must realize how that looks. A good prosecutor, even one without the competence of Bob Mueller, would almost certainly look into what was said between the Manafort and Trump legal team. As a class, us lawyers hate to become witnesses. As a witness, we become burdened with a conflict of interest and must withdraw from the legal matter. The lawyers for Pres. Trump have remarkably exposed themselves to legal liability on so many levels. They have likely made themselves witnesses to possible perjury.

Regardless of what was actually discussed, these developments have opened the door to deeper, more extensive investigation. Like doctors, lawyers are expected to if nothing else, do no harm to your client (or to your law license). Yet, these lawyers appear to have done exactly that, harm to the President’s case and to their own law licenses. This is a bizarre turn of events.

 

There are some fundamental requirements in United States jurisprudence. There are some things we just do not do as a matter of fundamental due process. One of those things we do not do is ask minors to make important legal decisions. Yet, that is exactly the slippery slope upon which the Trump administration has embarked. A five year old Honduran who as seeking asylum was separated from her grandmother. She was then asked to sign away her right to a bond hearing. The ABA Bar Journal is relying on a New Yorker magazine article for the story.

Helen arrived in Texas with her grandmother, Noehmi and her teenage uncle, Christian in July. The Trump administration had supposedly ended the practice of separating children from their families weeks before Helen arrived. Yet, Helen was separated from her family.

All immigrants have the right to a hearing to determine whether they are entitled to bond. If the court finds they are likely to appear for their hearing, then the court allows them to post bond and go free until his/her hearing. Little Helen checked the box indicating she wanted a bond hearing. Later, someone handed her a form, with adult language and in English, asking if she wanted to waive her right to a bond hearing. The form was checked that she wished to withdraw her request for a bond hearing. Her signature appeared in typical kindergarten scrawl, just one word, “Helen.” There was no last name.

In Texas, the age at which one may enter into a contract is 18. But, in reality, many businesses require an older age, 21. My son cannot rent a car in his own name until he turns 21. Five years old is definitely below the minimum.

The age of consent affects countless areas of law, everything from marriage, to a driver’s license to voting. It is, or was, a fundamental precept of American law. See the ABA Bar Journal report here.

Later, Noehmi and Christian were re-united. But, at the hearing, the immigration judge and the Department of Homeland Defense lawyer did not appear to realize Helen existed. The lawyer for Noehmi and Christian tracked down Helen and found her. Helen was returned to her family on Sept. 10, 2018. But, now, she is afraid to go to sleep at night for fear her family will leave her in the night.

In your average lawsuit, this is not supposed to happen. Key witnesses are not supposed to suddenly recall something they have previously denied. Yet, that is what happened in the 2020 Census lawsuit. Wilbur Ross, the head of the Commerce department, now suddenly does recall conversations with then advisor Steve Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the citizenship question. The Commerce department is responsible for the census in 2020. Secretary Ross added a question asking whether each person is a U.S. citizen. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit contend the question is designed to intimidate persons into not completing the census.

Earlier, when he testified before Congress, Secretary Ross denied any such conversation. The Department of Justice said it could neither confirm or deny involvement by AG Sessions. But, now he remembers. Secretary Ross says he recalls a phone call from Steve Bannon in March, 2017 asking him to speak with Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State of Kansas, and immigration hard-liner. Mr. Ross also now remembers speaking with AG Sessions in the Spring of 2017 and later. See Politico news report here.

The Secretary has been resisting attempts to take his deposition. This latest court pleading apparently seeks to prevent the depositions by admitting to some things the plaintiffs might ask. We can see why he would prefer not to remember these discussions with Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kobach. If this decision to ask about citizenship was based solely on best practices, why would he need to discuss the question with a political advisor like Steve Bannon?

Now, suddenly he remembers things he did not recall months ago. Typically, the memory works in just the opposite way. Usually, we recall things better when asked closer to the event. But, in Mr. Ross’ case, he remembers things better the further away he gets from the event. Uh huh. That’s the ticket…….

That was an unwise decision by the U.S. Supreme Court a few weeks ago. In the case of Janus v. American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees, No. 16-1466 (6/27/2018), the court ruled that employees who are not members of a union cannot be compelled to pay reduced dues, even though they accept the benefits of the union bargaining. See the Janus decision here. It was a legal theory that had kicked around for decades. If a non-member is compelled to pay dues at a reduced rate, is the non-member being forced to support activity for which s/he does not believe? Over time, unions dealt with that concern by reducing the dues for non-members and by ensuring the money devoted to political advocacy came from a different pot of money. Even so, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus that compelling dues violated the First Amendment.

I say the decision was unwise, because that same reasoning has permeated groups and associations for decades. The U.S. Supreme Court did not just overturn decades of precedent, but it also unsettled accepted norms. Now, just a few weeks later, two members of the Oregon Bar Association have filed suit arguing that being forced to pay dues to a state bar association violates their First Amendment rights, as well. The bar association, the plaintiffs say, advocates for political and ideological speech with which they disagree. There is probably some truth to that argument. Every state bar association advocates for some political goals, even if the goals are generally accepted. They advocate for goals like maintaining a bar association, for preventing unlawful practice of law, and more. While most of us see the benefit of preventing non-licensed persons practicing law, some may not. Yet, every state requires bar membership. The plaintiffs point out in their lawsuit, however, that while state licensing is necessary, state bar membership need not be necessary. See ABA BarJournal report about the Oregon lawsuit here.

And, of course, a few months ago, the Oregon Bar Association published a statement accusing Pres. Trump of catering to white nationalists and a second statement which condemned white nationalism. The bar association refunded the dues for members who requested a refund. One of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit did receive a refund, while the other did not seek a refund. But, even apart from those political statements, every bar association engages in some small measure of political advocacy. What happens when some members disagree? When a boy joins the boy scouts, is he required to agree with every political view taken by the Boy Scouts of America?

The Supreme Court may have opened a Pandora’s box. We will see how this evolves.

Within just a few days, Admiral William McRaven accused Pres. Trump of engaging in Joe McCarthy tactics and the President accused the Mueller investigation of engaging in Joe McCarthy tactics. They are referring to former Sen. Joe McCarthy who conducted anti-Communist hearings in the Senate. Let us look back for a moment at that disgraceful episode in U.S. history

Senator McCarthy was a bully. In his zeal to uproot all vestiges of Communism or Communist sympathizers, he bullied, scared and threatened his way across Washington, D.C. Everyone was afraid of Joe McCarthy, because they feared being branded as “soft” on Communism. Like Donald Trump, Joe McCarthy shot from the hip. For example, he stated flatly, like he knew and only he knew, that there were dozens of Communists in the federal government. He claimed in one speech to have a list in his hands of 205 known Communists in the State Department. Later, in the Senate, he said the number was actually 57. Still later, he claimed it was 81. That alleged list led to Senate hearings looking for Commies anywhere in the federal government. Overnight, Joe McCarthy became a household name. He became an albatross for the Republicans. Gen. Eisenhower, while campaigning, said he supported Mr. McCarthy’s goals, but not his methods. According to some accounts, in actuality, the President had planned a sharper attack on Sen. McCarthy, but backed down at the last minute.

When the Senator ran his own committee, he destroyed people, based on little more than suspicion. His browbeating tactics in Senate hearings offended his colleagues. But, afraid of what he would do or say, the other Senators said nothing.

In looking into the U.S. Army, he could find no evidence of subversion after weeks of investigation. But, he was convinced the Army had been “soft” on Communists. Frustrated, he started focusing on the case of Irving Peress, a New York dentist. Mr. Peress had been drafted in 1952. In his papers, he had disclosed a former membership in the American Labor Party, a leftist organization. When asked about his political affiliations, he had left that portion blank.

Capt. Peress was promoted to Major in 1953. Sen. McCarthy started a campaign  to find out who had promoted Maj. Peress. The question, “Who promoted Peress?” became a conservative rallying cry. All this time, Sen. McCarthy knew that the major had been promoted automatically by the provisions of the Draft Doctor’s Act, a recently passed law which Sen. McCarthy had supported.

When called before the committee, Capt. Peress invoked the 5th Amendment numerous times. He insisted that citing the 5th Amendment did not amount to guilt. Later, Sen. McCarthy demanded that the Army court-martial Capt. Peress. The pressure eventually forced Capt. Peress to request a discharge. He was discharged honorably with a promotion to major.

The committee then called on his commander, Brigadier-General Wicker to explain how he was promoted and discharged without a court-martial. BG Wicker, a West Point graduate, had been at Normandy. He had led an Infantry battalion at the key Battle of Brest. He was a hero. He was asked about his approval of the discharge orders for Maj. Peress. Based on advice from the Army counsel, he refused to answer certain questions. The Senator badgered him, and accused him of perjury. He said the general was not fit to wear the uniform.

“Tail-Gunner” Joe had been an enlisted man in the Army during WW II. His abuse of BG Wicker caused many people to turn against Sen. McCarthy. All the general did was approve discharge for an officer who had committed no transgression while in service. As BG Wicker said many years later, he was initially not unsympathetic to Sen. McCarthy. But, as soon as the hearing began, he quickly became disillusioned. Sen. McCarthy, said the general, was an opportunist. The Senator’s abuse postponed Zwicker’s promotion to Major General.

The debacle with BG Wicker lead to the Army hearings. Sen. McCarthy would hold hearings on live television, the new medium, digging deeper into so-called Army tolerance of Communism. Millions watched as he browbeat and interrogated various Army officials. In one such hearing, the chief legal representative for the Army, Joseph N. Welch pressed the committee about some supposed 130 persons who worked in defense plants and supported the Communist party. Sen. McCarthy jumped into the conversation. He insisted Mr. Welch explain the case of Fred Fisher, a young lawyer who worked in Mr. Welch’s law firm. Mr. Fisher, insisted the Senator, had once belonged to the National Lawyer’s Guild, the “mouthpiece” of the Communist party.

The National lawyers Guild is still around. It is indeed liberal leaning, but it is also independent of any political affiliation. Sen. McCarthy had to know this.

Joseph Welch accused the senator of cruelty. The Senator persisted, demanding to know about Mr. Fisher’s former membership. Mr. Welch famously replied, “Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the National Lawyer’s Guild. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency??” When Sen. McCarthy persisted, Mr. Welch cut him off. He reminded him that he could have asked about Fred Fisher any time that day. He sat within six feet of Mr. Welch. He told the chairman of the committee to call the next witness. The gallery then erupted in applause and a recess was called. Sen. McCarthy’s decline began soon after.

Fred Fisher did indeed once belong to the NLG during law school. But, as Mr. Welch pointed out, this was needless trashing of a man at a time when membership in liberal organizations could ruin a man’s career. This line of inquiry served no purpose, other than advancing Sen. McCarthy’s political goals. It was cold-blooded political opportunism and Mr. Welch called it.

So, when persons accuse another of McCarthyism, that is indeed a deep insult. Sixty years ago, the end for “Tail-Gunner” Joe started with one decent man, representing the U.S. Army.

The question arrises in many discrimination cases how far back can the plaintiff go in presenting relevant evidence? Title VII itself provides that a complainant must file his/her complaint within 300 days of the act of discrimination. Can the plaintiff present evidence of harassing conduct before that 300 days started? Yes, of course. The theory of “continuing violation” has been around a long time.In Heath v. Board of Supervisors for Southern University, 850 F.3d 731 (5th Cir. 2017), Prof. Heath was a professor at Southern University. In her lawsuit, she alleged a male supervisor had harassed her for ten years before she field her complaint. in her lawsuit, the district court refused to allow evidence of harassment older than 300 days.

The court noted that in cases alleging hostile work environment, a plaintiff can generally present evidence of harassment older than 300 days, so long as one act of harassment does fall within the 300 day window. But, the lower court refused to treat Prof. Heath’s situation as continuing. Prof. Heath left the school on a sabbatical. So, said the lower court, harassment prior to the sabbatical could not be included in her lawsuit.

In looking at continuing violation, the lower court applied a three part test: 1) whether the alleged acts involve the same type of discrimination, tending to connect them in a continuing violation; 2) whether the alleged acts are recurring or more in the nature of an isolated work assignment or incident; and 3) whether the act has the degree of permanence which should trigger an employee’s awareness of and duty to assert his or her rights. The district court focused on the third factor when it granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

But, this test was used by Fifth Circuit decisions prior to the decision in National R.R. Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 117, 122 S.Ct. 2061, 153 L.Ed.2d 106 (2002). Pre-Morgan caselaw noted that the third factor was the most important. The Morgan case make an important distinction. It distinguishes discrete acts of traditional discrimination from hostile work environment claims. The human dynamics of harassment by a co-worker are different from those of a supervisor. Claims based on traditional discrete acts of discrimination are not subject to the continuing violation theory. Claims based on hostile work environment are.

As the Heath court noted, a hostile work environment claim is one based on death by a thousand cuts, not by one discrete act. In a hostile work environment, no one act can be pointed to as the one “unlawful employment practice.”

More importantly, the decision in Morgan rejected the view of circuits like the Fifth Circuit that formerly held that “the plaintiff may not base a suit on individual acts that occurred outside the statute of limitations unless it would have been unreasonable to expect the plaintiff to sue before the statute ran on such conduct.” So, the Fifth Circuit recognized that the Fifth Circuit’s pre-Morgan test for the continuing violation doctrine was implicitly overruled to the extent prior cases held that the continuing violation doctrine does not apply when an employee was or should have been aware earlier of a duty to assert her rights. That the employee was on notice or not that an act of harassment gave rise to a valid claim is not relevant.

See the Fifth Circuit decision here.

Incredibly, it appears the settlements concerning Bill O’Reilly and his sexual harassment required his victims to lie about the evidence. According to a CNN report, a settlement agreement with Andrea Mackris, a former Fox News producer, required her to lie even under oath by referring to the allegations as “counterfeit” or as “forgeries.” According to this same CNN report, the lawyer who claimed to represent Ms. Mackris switched sides in the midst of the negotiations for the settlement agreement and then represented Bill O’Reilly.

As Ms. Mackris’ current lawyer mentions, if true, that is a profoundly unethical step for any lawyer in any state. There is no situation in which it would be proper for a lawyer to switch sides during a lawsuit or during a negotiation. The ethical rules emphasize the appearance of impropriety. Even if the lawyer, Benedict Morelli, could offer some explanation for switching sides, changing sides would simply look improper.

These are serious legal allegations, the kind any lawyer would lose his license for. I am sure all these legal problems helped persuade the judge to allow three of Mr. O”Reilly’s settlement agreements to become public. Mr. O’Reilly asked the judge to seal the settlement agreements. But, the federal judge denied his motion. See CNN news report.