It took me three tries to find a pre-school where I could send my son and not spend the entire day fretting about his safety. On the second try, I got a call one afternoon that my son had bitten someone. Bitten? Patrick? He was only 2 for goodness sake! How could he be left unattended long enough to bite someone?
Both Patrick and the child whom he had bitten told the same exact story. The other child, his neighborhood friend Isaac, had sat on Patrick’s chest and was pummeling Patrick’s face with his fists. His fists. Isaac was three and a hefty kid. I closed my eyes at this point. The teacher continued with her tale. Patrick “used his words” (“Isaac, stop hitting me! Isaac, get off my chest!”), which the school told the kids should be their first line of defense. He could not “walk away” because Isaac sat squarely on his chest. The third tactic? “Get help.”
Where was the teacher? Sitting on a park bench three feet away reading outloud to other children. Patrick called for her. She glanced over and, in her words “figured it was just boys being boys” so she did nothing.
So Patrick, whose hands had been placed out of commission by Isaac straddling his entire body, caught one of the flailing fists en route to his face between his lips and bit down hard. Isaac jumped up, screaming bloody murder. The teacher lumbered over and thrashed my son, who took his punishment with silent tears.
I thought about Patrick’s biting episode when I saw this lead-in paragraph at npr.org at 7:00 a.m. today:
“The House Republican Conference voted Monday night to approve a change to House rules to weaken the independence of the Office of Congressional Ethics and place it under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee — a panel controlled by party leaders.“
The schoolyard bullies have taken over the playground. The rules of conduct will not help us. We can use our words, but no one will be listening. We can’t walk away unless we’re prepared to move to New Zealand. Although I did get a passport for the first time in my life in anticipation of needing to make a fast get away, I like this playground and I’d prefer to stay.
In case you’ve forgotten why the Office of Congressional Ethics came to be, NPR provides this account and link:
The Office of Congressional Ethics was established in 2008 under House Democrats, in response to the era of lobbying scandals made notable by Jack Abramoff, the former lobbyist who went to prison on corruption charges.
NPR.org, 03 January 2017. The Department of Justice release describes Abramoff’s antics: “Abramoff also admitted that as one means of accomplishing results for their clients, he, Scanlon, and others engaged in a pattern of corruptly providing things of value to public officials, including trips, campaign contributions, and meals and entertainment, with the intent to influence acts by the public officials that would benefit Abramoff and Abramoff’s clients.”
Providing things of value to public officials. . . with the intent to influence acts by the public officials. . .That’s bribery, people. Bribery.
Even Paul Ryan opposes this move, saying: “there’s a bipartisan way to better reform the office.”
Notwithstanding all the bad jokes thrown at me and my brothers and sisters at the Bar over cocktails, I live by extraordinarily tight Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 4. Every time I send a letter or draft a pleading, I mentally rifle through a whole sheaf of formal and informal opinions to decide if what I’m doing passes muster. If I stray across the line, I am subject to censure if someone reports me. Moreover, lawyers in Missouri have a duty to report each other for suspected violations calling their integrity into question:
RULE 4-8.3: REPORTING PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT
(a) A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects shall inform the appropriate professional authority.
Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 4-8.3.
I judge every act which I do as a lawyer by the professional standards to which I am held. I’ve reported lawyers when I learned of substantial breaches of their ethics. I thought long and hard before doing so, but in the final analysis, I knew our profession must hold itself to the highest standards. I realized that if I did not safeguard those ethics, the fabric of our flag would be a little more tattered. Our clients would be a little less safe.
And that’s what will happen if Congressional ethics have fewer and weaker safeguards. The schoolyard bully will sit on our chest and pummel our faces. The teacher will sit on her duff reading fairy tales while we holler for help. We’ll finally grow tired and bite the fist which strikes us time after time. We will be sent to time-out for defending ourselves. The bully will walk away smirking. Just like Isaac.
In 17 days, one party will control both houses of Congress and the White House. That party’s leaders just voted to give themselves free reign on the playground. If you were not already frightened, you should be terrified now.
Author’s note: The above-appearing entry was written on 03 January 2017 at 8:00 a.m. CST. As noted by NPR.org this afternoon, Public outcry, opposition from ethics watchdog groups, a divided GOP, and two tweets from Trump critical of the rules change prompted a swift reversal of the proposal authored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.