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LEGAL PEOPLE

July 16 ,2024

Schneiderman & Sherman PC is pleased to announce the addition of Indra Pandiyaraj to its team of attorneys.

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Schneiderman & Sherman PC is pleased to announce the addition of Indra Pandiyaraj to its team of attorneys.

Pandiyaraj joins the firm as an associate attorney, bringing with her real estate and legal experience along with an international perspective.  She will play a part in managing a caseload of complex litigation matters while overseeing the attorney group to ensure efficient case distribution and workload management. Her responsibilities will include providing strategic advice and counsel to both clients and staff on litigation-related issues.

Prior to joining Schneiderman & Sherman PC, Pandiyaraj served as an associate attorney at Soble Law PLC, in Farmington Hills, where she independently managed a caseload of complex real estate and financial disputes. Her commitment to public service and community advocacy is additionally reflected in her tenure at Lakeshore Legal Aid in Detroit where she held the role of supervising attorney for the Detroit Eviction Team, ensuring legal representation for clients.

Pandiyaraj graduated from TamilNadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University in India. Upon her relocation to the United States, she embarked on furthering her legal career, obtaining an LLM in Corporate & Finance Law from Wayne State University Law School in 2018.

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Miller Johnson
leads the State Bar of Michigan 2024 A Lawyer Helps Pro Bono Honor Roll with 14 attorneys receiving Tier 1 recognition (100+ Hours of Service), the most of any law firm in Michigan.

The firm is being honored for its service to low-income individuals and families throughout Michigan in pro bono and access-to-justice issues. Twenty-nine Miller Johnson attorneys are listed on the Honor Roll.

The attorneys are recognized on the Honor Roll for their pro bono hours from the 2023 calendar year, including the 14 who contributed 100+ of service, 6 who contributed 50-99 hours of service and 9 who contributed between 30-49 hours. Below are local Miller Johnson honorees:

—Pro Bono Tier 1 (100+ Hours of Service)

    Breanne N. Gilliam
    Emily C. Palacios


—Pro Bono Tier 2 (50-99 Hours of Service)

    Stephen T. Reaume


In firm honors, Miller Johnson is recognized as a Tier 1 provider for having contributed between 4,000 and 5,999 total firm pro bono hours. Miller Johnson is one of only two honorees with 30-49 Hours of Pro Bono Legal Services per Attorney Average.

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Dickinson Wright
is pleased to announce that fourteen attorneys within the firm are listed in the 2024 IP Stars by Managing Intellectual Property. The firm received a “Highly Recommended” rating for its Patent Prosecution, Patent Disputes, and Trademark practices in Michigan, and a “Recommended” rating for its Intellectual Property practice in Nevada.

Below are the local Dickinson Wright attorneys who are listed as 2024 IP Stars:

—Troy

    William H. Honaker,
Patent, Copyright, and Trademark Star
    Steven L. Oberholtzer,
Patent and Trademark Star
    Daniel D. Quick,
Copyright and Trademark Star

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The State Bar of Michigan has recently released the annual “A Lawyer Helps Pro Bono Honor Roll” and recognized Kitch attorneys John Sier and Joslyn Iafrate. The 2024 Honor Roll acknowledges attorneys who have provided pro bono legal services to low-income individuals and families across Michigan.

Sier leads the firm’s commercial litigation practice, bringing more than three decades of experience. He focuses on resolving commercial, healthcare, and construction contract disputes.

Iafrate, a principal at the firm’s Detroit office, specializes in medical malpractice defense litigation and premises liability defense.

•            •            •

After nearly 40 years, Maddin Hauser has moved its offices minutes from its former space.  The firm’s new modern offices are located at One Towne Square, fifth floor, in Southfield.

THE EXPERT WITNESS: Valuing household services lost in cases of disabling injury and death (humanitarian economics)

July 16 ,2024

For contrast, let us return to the year 2000. That year marked the first time that less than 25 percent of American households existed as a married man and woman along with one or more of their children. This represents a twenty percent decrease from 45 percent that occurred in 1960. This number decreased again to around 20 percent in 2010. In our common reality in big cities and in smaller towns, we find that families became single moms, stepfamilies, boys and girls not getting married, and a turn to foster parents with two fathers or two mothers.
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By John F. Sase
Gerard Senick,
editor
Julie Sase, copy editor
William Gross,
research

“Fewer than 25 percent of American households are made up of a married man and woman with their children. Therefore, what do families look like now?

—Cris Beam, “The Changing American Family,” American Baby Magazine, May 2005


For contrast, let us return to the year 2000. That year marked the first time that less than 25 percent of American households existed as a married man and woman along with one or more of their children. This represents a twenty percent decrease from 45 percent that occurred in 1960. This number decreased again to around 20 percent in 2010. In our common reality in big cities and in smaller towns, we find that families became single moms, stepfamilies, boys and girls not getting married, and a turn to foster parents with two fathers or two mothers. They have formed a village in real life in which families have become richly diverse.

The Value of Lost Household Services represents a significant economic factor in wrongful death as well as debilitating personal injury cases. Whether we admit or not admit such losses as the evidence in any specific case, the Value of Lost Household Services accounts for significant proportions of total economic loss. Such proportions may range from zero to the greatest amounts of economic damages in a lawsuit.

The nuclear families of the past usually contained some members who were not employed full-time outside of the home. However, these family and near-family members have tended to assist as caretakers-at-home for the children, adult invalids, and the post-employment elders of families. Due to economic changes and the increasing opportunities for women in the workplace, most families have been left short of the luxury of a pair of spare hands. Increasingly, the roles of caretakers have redeveloped as commercial services obtained in the marketplace.

Many attorneys handle cases of wrongful death, debilitating personal injury that leads to a diminution of capacity, or both. The total economic loss in such cases appears to strongly affect the Value of Lost Household Services.

Let us explain further. The concept of Lost Household Services benefits affects attorneys as well as other legal professionals. Therefore, in our column this month, we present an overview of valuing Household Services along with a discussion of the inherent problems in measuring them. Furthermore, we address the commonly accepted methods and data sources used by economists in these calculations.

How We Do It


Forensic Economists rely heavily upon standardized (though complex) tables that summarize both the average hours worked in employment outside and inside the home. Work at home also includes the hourly Household Services and the value thereof. These tables come to us through survey samples and analyses using methodology from Economics and the other Social Sciences. Such sources that we rely upon the most include the time-diary data in the American Time-Use Survey (ATUS) and various wage surveys that the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics produces and publishes.

The stratified and segmented samples used represent the broad cross-section of the U.S. population. The most notable determinants in our measurement of Household Services include gender, age, and work status. The nature of these services varies over time and depending on the family situation.

Across all age groups in two-adult households, the ongoing research results indicate that women work more hours performing Household Services than do men. Furthermore, this phenomenon continues to endure whether we include minor children in the household and whether both adults work outside of the home, or attend advanced education full-time, part-time, or not at all. In order to achieve greater accuracy and specificity for individual cases, researchers stratify and segment large samples using critical characteristics in science. Though we use numerous segmentations and stratifications for Forensic-Economic determinations, many exceptions to the norm continue to exist. Furthermore, this norm continues to shift over time. However, some determinations remain the same, or at least similar over time and location.

Family Examples


Let us consider a basic example: We consider a married male who works full-time while the spouse is not employed outside of the home, though has at least one child under thirteen years of age.

The male in question averages twenty-two hours of household service work per week. In contrast, a married female characterized as a homemaker with a youngest child under thirteen. She may complete more than fifty-three hours of homemaker work per week. In contrast, a married male-female couple, with each one under the age of forty-five though having no minor children, averages twenty-one hours of household services for the female and fourteen for the male. For a similarly situated couple in which both parties are retired, the household work averages thirty-three hours for the female and twenty-three hours for the male. Interesting data!

However, extenuating circumstances provide exceptions. These include older dependents who become physically or mentally challenged. Generally, we consider attendant responsibilities for dependent children until their eighteenth birthday. We note that the degree of attendant responsibility for minor children varies with age. Therefore, we distinguish among pre-adolescents under thirteen years of age, adolescents at age thirteen- through seventeen years old, and young adults, eighteen years old and older. As a result, these stati emerge as separate groups.

In measuring the tasks that each of us performs during an average day, two categories of services command center stage in Forensic Economics. These are Household Production and Caring and Helping. Measuring time for other daily tasks, including personal hygiene, dressing, and eating meals, arises only in severe impairment, such as para- or quadriplegic. Any value that applies to these tasks falls under the market cost of necessary Attendant Care.

The concept of standard categories for services has led to the development of twelve time-use subcategories, seven for Household Production and five for Caring and Helping. We define Household Production as routine work done around most homes. Under this heading, we include work done inside the home; cooking food and subsequent clean-up; maintenance of pets, homes, and vehicles; household management; shopping for goods; obtaining services; and travel for household activity.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports survey averages of time worked for each subcategory. The Bureau also reports the sizes of the 200 subpopulations studied as well as the size of the responding sample for each. However, Forensic Economists may interview a client or his/her close family member(s) directly when gathering case-specific information. The purpose of these investigations? To ascertain hours for life situations that fall outside the normal bounds of the collected data and to determine remaining capacity on an item-by-item basis in cases of disabling injury. This practice aims to ensure greater accuracy, objectivity, and transparency in a cost-effective manner.

Sometimes, a Forensic Videographer may record a “day in the life” of a client that provides even greater detail and a human connection. These recordings may illustrate the magnitude of physical impairment in a way a jury can empathize. For example, regarding outdoor chores, one might ask the client whether s/he can still climb a ladder to repair a gutter or paint some trim. His/her answer may be, “No, it is too dangerous to do with only one good arm.”

Caring and Helping


In contrast to Household Production, Caring and Helping tends to have a wider swing (a more significant variance) than Household Production. A shoulder impairment may produce a wide range of limitations to remaining capacity, depending on a specific subcategory. Caring and Helping includes activities we group into five subcategories: performing services for household children, adults, non-household and near-family members, travel for household members, and travel for non-household members. In providing care and help to others, we often find the most significant activity reduction because care within the nuclear and extended family turns more to the newly impaired client. Often, these activities require the ability to lift or help another into a vehicle and drive it.

Thus far, we have reviewed the set of metrics that economists commonly employ to measure the Value of Lost Household Services. However, we face a significant challenge in maintaining accuracy and objectivity because clients generally self-report much information regarding their remaining capacity. They may do this consciously to inflate their losses or unconsciously because they are unaware of their activities in terms of subcategories and such detail. Nevertheless, an economist who commences with a solid and detailed framework based on extensive large-sample research minimizes the effect of any bias in this self-reporting. The tables provide a reality check in the economic determination of losses.

When Forensic Economists consider the hours worked and the dollar value of Household Services, generally, we look at the family structure as one of the critical determinants; our economy continuously transforms the structure of the American household morphs into a wider variety of forms.

Similar changes have occurred over the centuries. These changes have impacted the structure of families and everyday life as we know it. Since domestic households and the economy remain inextricably linked, household structure and the economy coevolve. In order to untangle this ball of string, let us consider that an optimal household structure exists at any given time and in any corresponding economic condition. Over the past century, economic conditions have caused American households to vacillate between multigenerational, bigenerational, and monogenerational structures.

Putting all of these into simple terms, families include at least one parent in the primary labor force. Along with them, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other extended family members who are not primary breadwinners have resided under the same roof. This multigenerational structure has been considered traditional. It remains prevalent in parts of the United States and most other countries worldwide.   

Regarding our opening quote by Cris Beam, the change toward alternate family structures usually depends on economic, political, and social conditions. Given the point of time in the aging of any Baby Boom, a phenomenon occurs during prosperous years in the wake of a major war. Wars tend to delay the formation of families. Therefore, single persons or non-traditional pairs, with or without dependent children, may constitute the predominant household structure. These events result in the science of measuring hours, and the value of household services continues to evolve.

We hope the above information has served to clarify what can be an obtuse subject. Understanding this subject will help attorneys communicate more effectively with their clients and experts. The dollar amounts from Household Services cases may be large and constitute a significant percentage of total economic losses. Therefore, getting more precise and supportable figures increases the probability of settling in arbitration or winning the amount in a jury trial. Hopefully, this subject will lead to meaningful discussions among attorneys and their family members.
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Dr. John F. Sase teaches Economics at Wayne State University and has practiced Forensic and Investigative Economics for twenty years. He earned a combined M.A. in Economics and an MBA at the University of Detroit, followed by a Ph.D. in Economics from Wayne State University. He is a graduate of the University of Detroit Jesuit High School (www.saseassociates.com).

Gerard J. Senick is a freelance writer, editor, and musician. He earned his degree in English at the University of Detroit and was a supervisory editor at Gale Research Company (now Cengage) for over twenty years. Currently, he edits books for publication (www.senick-editing.com).

Julie G. Sase is a copyeditor, parent coach, and empath. She earned her degree in English at Marygrove College and her graduate certificate in Parent Coaching from Seattle Pacific University. Ms. Sase coaches clients, writes articles, and edits copy (royaloakparentcoaching.com).

GETTING TO KNOW: Sydney M. Koch

July 16 ,2024

Sydney Koch is a staff attorney at the Family Law Project of Legal Services of South Central Michigan. Koch grew up in Deerfield, a small farm town in Lenawee County. She earned her B.A.in economics and political science from the University of Michigan, where she was a coxswain on the varsity women’s rowing team and Pi Beta Phi (V.P. Philanthropy).
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By Teresa Killeen
Washtenaw County Bar Association

Sydney Koch is a staff attorney at the Family Law Project of Legal Services of South Central Michigan. Koch grew up in Deerfield, a small farm town in Lenawee County. She earned her B.A.in economics and political science from the University of Michigan, where she was a coxswain on the varsity women’s rowing team and Pi Beta Phi (V.P. Philanthropy).

She earned her law degree from the University of Tennessee for law school, where her activities including serving on the editorial board of the Tennessee Law Review; serving as a member and contributor to The Tennessee Journal of Business Law; and competing in the Duberstein Bankruptcy Moot Court; and participating in the Mediation Clinic.

Koch began her legal career in East Tennessee. Although she loved all the outdoor activities living at the foothills of the Smokies had to offer, she is a Michigander at heart and returned to Ann Arbor in 2014. Koch worked in employment-based immigration for the University of Michigan and Honigman until she and her husband welcomed their first daughter.

Since that time, she has worked in family law, serving as a Judicial Attorney, Domestic Referee, and now as an attorney with the Family Law Project representing indigent victims of domestic violence. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Children’s Literacy Network, the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, and the Washtenaw County Bar Association.

Tell us a little about your family.

My husband, Jerry Kozak, is able to find humor in almost any situation. He is a co-owner of the Ann Arbor T-Shirt Company and has been supportive of my career since we met in college. We have two beautiful daughters: Dahlia, 5, and Poppy, 2. They are both outgoing, smart, and love keeping us on our toes. We also have an adopted dog, Wally, who loves to snuggle.

What’s an essential part of your daily routine?


Kissing my daughters goodbye before leaving for work. No one in my family is a morning person, and every morning involves a mad rush to get out the door (and promises not to hit the snooze button as much tomorrow ... always tomorrow). After all the chaos, it is important to me to make time to remind them I love them with a hug and a kiss. It is as much for me as it is for them.

What would your second career choice have been if you had not become a lawyer?


I absolutely love the natural world, especially plants and flowers. If I could choose a new path, I would work in a nursery or greenhouse. Unfortunately, my love of plants has not translated to gardening success, or even houseplant success. I suppose this means I should stick to Plan A!

Describe a perfect day off.

My perfect day off would include sleeping in, grabbing brunch with friends, then hiking to a swimming hole with my family, taking a dip, and returning home to grill burgers.

What are some of your favorite places that you have visited?


My husband and I traveled to Iceland for our honeymoon and went scuba diving in a bay off the north coast to see a unique undersea formation, Strytan. It was a truly unique experience, and Iceland itself was magical. We later traveled to Croatia to visit the coast and Plitvice Lakes. Croatia is one of the most beautiful countries I have visited.
 
What causes are you passionate about?


Literacy. I serve on the Board of Directors of the Children’s Literacy Network (CLN), which is a volunteer-based nonprofit agency in Washtenaw County dedicated to closing the book and reading achievement gap. CLN offers a continuum of literacy services designed to motivate and support reading. CLN provides under-resourced schools with trained reading mentors for pre-K to first grade students through its Read with Kids Program, and assists second and third grade students with its BookPALS Program. Families connect with reading at CLN’s literacy nights (FLIP), and CLN continues its programming through the summer months with its Readers Theater Program.

Favorite part of your job?


Engaging with clients. The legal system can be daunting, and working with legal aid means serving vulnerable individuals. Being able to explain the legal process and make it more accessible to my clients is fulfilling, meaningful work.

What is the biggest challenge facing you as an attorney today?


I recently left my role as a referee to join the Family Law Project. Juggling the needs and personalities of multiple clients simultaneously, as well as the idiosyncrasies of different opposing attorneys, has been a new challenge. I have learned that I am not as thick-skinned as I previously thought, but have been finding my voice and growing into my practice.

Why did you choose to be a member of the WCBA? What is the greatest benefit you have enjoyed as a member?


I chose to be a member of the WCBA because of the connections it provides to other members. We have a wonderful bar, made up of professionals who are giving with their time, expertise, and wisdom. The bar offers useful trainings and networking opportunities, and the connections I have made with its members have made practicing in Washtenaw truly enjoyable.
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Reprinted with permission from the WCBA newsletter Res Ipsa Loquitur.

Former law professor lived life to the fullest degree

July 16 ,2024

Professor Emeritus Norman Fell, who died June 21 at age 81, dedicated his professional career – and his life – to public service. He was a family man, outdoorsman, traveler, and avid music fan.
Norman (Norm) Fell was born on September 8, 1942 in Detroit to Al and Rose Fell. He attended high school at Cass Tech in Detroit, earning his bachelor of science degree from Wayne State University in 1965 and his law degree there in 1968.
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By Marla Mitchell-Cichon

Professor Emeritus Norman Fell, who died June 21 at age 81, dedicated his professional career – and his life – to public service. He was a family man, outdoorsman, traveler, and avid music fan.

Norman (Norm) Fell was born on September 8, 1942 in Detroit to Al and Rose Fell. He attended high school at Cass Tech in Detroit, earning his bachelor of science degree from Wayne State University in 1965 and his law degree there in 1968.

Fell began his legal career as a member of the Los Angeles Public Defender’s Office where he became the chief deputy defender of the Long Beach Municipal Court. Upon returning to Michigan, he worked for the Ann Arbor Legal Aid Society, then established the Law Co-Op, providing criminal defense to middle to low-income residents.

Professor Fell began his teaching career at Cooley Law School in 1988. He served as one of the first supervising attorneys in the Sixty-Plus Elder Law Clinic, and later rose to become its executive director. He was the founding director of the Washtenaw Public Defender Clinic, one of the first hybrid clinical programs in the country. “Development of a Criminal Law Clinic: A Blended Approach, 44 Clev. St. L. Rev. 275 (1996); https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1581&context=clevstlrev

In 2000, Fell testified before the Michigan legislature in support of a post-conviction DNA testing law. When asked by state representatives how such a program would be funded, Fell offered up
the law school as an option. His offer made the news before the school had the chance to consider the proposal. Michigan’s post-conviction DNA testing law was passed on January 6, 2001 and Fell started the first innocence project in the state shortly thereafter. Since its inception, the Cooley Innocence Project has exonerated nine men and provided its support and expertise in four additional cases.

Over the years, Fell served on numerous nonprofit boards and received a number of awards, including the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan (CDAM) Justice for All, Patriots and Liberty Bell awards. He was named as one of Michigan’s leaders in the law by Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

But Professor Fell was more than a public servant. He was a dedicated father and family man. He and his partner, Alice, raised two daughters, Shayna and Amanda. He was very proud of his daughters, often sharing stories about their lives and accomplishments. As a family, they traveled throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada, and Israel.

Fell also was an avid outdoorsman, and worked in the U.S. Forest Service prior to beginning his legal career. He also drove a food truck, a job that he loved. For many years, Fell sailed every summer and was a regular at the New Orleans Jazz Festival and Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise. He volunteered for many years at The Ark, a nationally known music venue in Ann Arbor.
In short, he lived a good, full life.
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Marla Mitchell-Cichon is a Cooley Law School distinguished professor emeritus, and counsel to the Cooley Innocence Project.

Professor Fell (right) with Cooley Law Emeritus Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon, who serves as counsel to the Cooley Innocence Project.

COMMENTARY: ABA proud to recognize Disability Pride Month

July 16 ,2024

The American Bar Association is proud to recognize Disability Pride Month this July in celebration of the immense resilience, creativity and contributions of individuals with disabilities. This month marks 34 years since the 1990 enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a seminal piece of civil rights legislation that fundamentally redefined the landscape of accessibility and inclusion in America.
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By Mary Smith

The American Bar Association is proud to recognize Disability Pride Month this July in celebration of the immense resilience, creativity and contributions of individuals with disabilities. This month marks 34 years since the 1990 enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a seminal piece of civil rights legislation that fundamentally redefined the landscape of accessibility and inclusion in America. By protecting against discrimination and mandating equal opportunities in employment, public accommodations and government services, the ADA has been instrumental in shaping a more equitable society.

Disability Pride Month also challenges us to confront deep-seated prejudices that undermine the value of individuals with disabilities, while also highlighting the substantial barriers that persist towards achieving true equality. Approximately one in four Americans navigate life with a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among these, 10% grapple with invisible disabilities such as chronic pain, mental health disorders and neurological differences that can profoundly affect daily life and interactions. Additionally, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges like long COVID into focus, emphasizing the urgent need for evolving policies and practices.

Many individuals with disabilities continue to face significant obstacles in accessing suitable employment, adequate health care and accessible housing, as well as enduring discriminatory or harmful attitudes that undervalue their capabilities and worth. These challenges are often intensified for disabled individuals who are also people of color or members of the LGBTQ+ community, facing multiple layers of discrimination.

At the American Bar Association, we are driven to change this narrative while celebrating the diverse abilities that enrich our collective community. Our Commission on Disability Rights leads the charge in advocating for accessibility and inclusion. While we focus on enhancing opportunities for disabled lawyers, our initiatives also tackle disability-related public policy and law, promoting adaptive and inclusive policies that foster full participation for all individuals with disabilities. We are committed to ensuring that everyone can engage with the legal system and society at large without hindrance to fully realize their potential.

This Disability Pride Month, we invite the legal community to celebrate the strides and contributions of disabled individuals and engage deeply with the issues they still face. Join us in championing the #BeCounted campaign, which encourages individuals to map their presence as a bold statement of pride and a call for greater awareness and amplified visibility, and to cultivate a culture of respect and understanding.

The quest for comprehensive accessibility for disabled persons extends beyond physical spaces and encompasses the need for societal shifts to fully embrace and integrate individuals with disabilities into every aspect of public and professional life. Together, we can forge a path toward a truly inclusive society where disability is recognized not as a deficit but as an integral part of human diversity.
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Mary Smith is president of the American Bar Association and is the first Native American woman in this role.  She is an independent board member and former CEO of a $6 billion national healthcare organization, the Indian Health Service. She currently serves on the board of PTC Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ: PTCT), a global biopharmaceutical company and on the board of HAI Group, a leading member-owned insurance company for the affordable housing industry. She is also vice chair of the VENG Group, a national consulting firm.

(https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2024/07/statement-of-aba-president-re-disability-pride-month/)

COMMENTARY: ‘Undercover’ work crosses an ethical border by a mile

July 16 ,2024

When, if ever, is it permissible for a news reporter to engage in unethical means to obtain a story?
That is the bottom-line question raised by the controversy over one, Lauren Windsor, posing as a Catholica conservative while secretly recording Associate Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito at a gala recently sponsored by the Supreme Court Historical Society.
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By Berl Falbaum

When, if ever, is it permissible for a news reporter to engage in unethical means to obtain a story?

That is the bottom-line question raised by the controversy over one, Lauren Windsor, posing as a Catholica conservative while secretly recording Associate Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito at a gala recently sponsored by the Supreme Court Historical Society.

Windsor’s recording made headlines when she “caught” Alito, after being goaded by her, agreeing that the country needs to return to a “place of godliness.”

For this column, we’ll put aside the question whether that comment deserved the massive coverage it received because it lacks any context. We really have no idea what Alito meant.  We’ll also skip the legality of the taping because that issue is very complex with various states dealing with it differently nor are we addressing Alito’s alleged unethical conduct in accepting gifts or his political conflicts of interest given his wife’s “political” activism.  We are only examining the issue of ethics in journalism.

The answer to the question posed at the top of this column is a resounding “no.”  I can’t be any stronger.  It is never permissible for reporters to misrepresent themselves or to record and/or photograph people without their permission. End of story.

I’ll skip the comments from those who agree with my position and just focus on those that defend Windsor, who is described as a “documentarian.” We’ll begin with the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

It stipulates that news people “should avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.”

I taught journalism ethics at Wayne State University for decades and always marveled at that “ethical” edict. I still can’t believe someone really wrote that and it’s been on the books for years. In effect, it says it’s wrong to steal unless you can’t get the money you need any other way.

Who decides what’s “vital to the public?”?  A documentarian seeking publicity?  A publisher losing subscriptions?  A reporter pressing his editors for a raise or promotion?

Parker Molloy, in her newsletter The Present Age, summaries the Windsor defense cited by many, writing, “Ultimately, the public interest should be the guiding principles in journalism. 

Regardless of how they are obtained, Laruen Windsor’s recordings shed light on the beliefs of a Supreme Court justice — information that the public has a right to know.”

Regardless of how the information was obtained?  Would Molloy support Windsor breaking into Alito’s office and rummaging through his files?  Would she approve of wiretapping the justice’s office?  If not, what is the difference with wiretapping his office and secretly recording him at the dinner?

Indeed, two local reporters, in a book on investigative reporting published in the 1970s, recommended bugging the offices of public officials, of course, to serve the public interest.

I still remember their suggestion of dropping a small mic that looks like a cockroach on the rug while the reporter is in the mayor’s office.  I think that meets the SPJ code.

What are the limits — are there any — for Molloy, Windsor and the others who defend misrepresentation and secret recordings?

As a society, we don’t even permit law enforcement agencies to wiretap without having probable cause or approval from a court.

I think it would be more in the public interest to rid us of organized crime figures, murderers, rapists, arsonists, etc. with secret recordings than garner a one-sentence quote from a Supreme court justice. Yet, we forbid it because of a commitment to protecting civil liberties, privacy and possible abuse.

Moreover, government agencies can be held accountable for unethical practices such as wiretapping while Windsor escapes any accountability as do all those who published her “exclusive.” They too compromised journalistic ethics and gave her the publicity she craved.

It is also vital to understand the First Amendment (freedom of the press) is not restricted to The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC or other major media outlets.  It even protects someone who publishes a small newsletter in a residential subdivision. Thus, under Windsor’s warped understanding of media ethics, in effect, anyone can wiretap public officials if they consider it in the public interest.

Other important factors to note:

—Windsor has not made the full recording public. Might there be something on it that gives us more information, that puts the conversation in context? Some skepticism is warranted given that Windsor already has engaged in unethical conduct.

—She admits she lied but “for the greater good.” I guess we should all feel indebted to her.  

—Alito did not actually say the country needs to return to a “place of godliness.” Windsor said it and he responded, “I agree with you.”  Might he just have been courteous?

—Another fair question: Is it really about the public interest or increasing traffic and the number of likes on websites?

Sadly, the media continues to lose the trust of the public which questions their accuracy, fairness and commitment to unbiased reporting. Poll after poll reveals a growing lack of respect which is hardly healthy for a democracy that needs a vibrant press dedicated to the highest principles of truth and honesty.

Surreptitious and underhanded behavior on the part of the media does not help in restoring public confidence in the press. Defending unsavory behavior only adds to the public’s distrust.

Given this brouhaha, consider how Windsor and her defenders might instruct their children on ethics: Never lie or cheat unless you cannot get what you want any other way.
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Berl Falbaum is a veteran journalist and author of 12 books.