This is something of a stretch from what I normally write about, but sometimes you simply have to write about something and simply ask for forgiveness rather than permission.
Recently, an article made the rounds written by Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker who posited that two recent events were the clearest sign yet that we were living in a computer simulation and that someone was trying to make the programming so absurd that we would become self-aware. The two events were the outcome of the recent Presidential election in the United States and the ending of the Oscars (which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago).
If you’d like to go read the article, and haven’t already, you can go read it here. It is a fun read, but I have a hard time taking any of it seriously. Gopnik, of course, as even he admits, is just riffing off of the thoughts of a philosopher at NYU – David Chalmers – who has written more extensively about the whole idea that we aren’t really what we think we are.
Perhaps it is purely out of a need for self-preservation and the kind of ego for which lawyers are notorious, but again I say that I can’t really take seriously the idea that we are but simulacrum. But then, there came this story.
A criminal defense lawyer representing a man accused of arson had his pants catch fire in court. In Florida. I mean . . . how “on the nose” can a situation get, right? When I first saw the headline, “lawyer’s pants catch fire during arson trial” – I mean, lawyer’s pants catch fire during arson trial?! That alone was enough to just for the splittest of split seconds to remember and briefly rethink my reaction to the Gopnik story.
Actually, the details of the story indicate that the situation was a lot less over-the-top than the headline reports. The lawyer in question apparently had 2 or 3 e-cigarette batteries in his pocket, and they started to smoke but he quickly got himself out of the courtroom. The real question that bears asking — and that the lawyer in press reports certainly understands will be people’s suspicion — is whether the whole event itself was staged.
The lawyer vigorously denies that it was purposefully staged, and he should deny that because “stagecraft” has been the kind of thing that can get a lawyer into ethical trouble. (Look at me just barely getting a hook into this to make it a passably ethics-based post.) This is true even though fictional lawyers such as Perry Mason have been permitted to do such things in the name of the truth and even though legendary stories about the antics of Clarence Darrow involve conduct that under modern ethics rules would be problematic.
One of my favorite examples of this kind of misguided approach, involving twins, was written about by Jack Marshall at his site many years ago, and you can read about it here.
And to make this post officially and well and truly about ethics and lawyering, the issue with the kind of stagecraft that was put in place by the lawyer that Marshall wrote about is that it runs afoul of several rules in place in jurisdictions that have rules patterned after the ABA Model Rules. Those rules include, at least, Rule 8.4(c) prohibiting lawyers from “engag[ing] in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation;” and Rule 3.3(a) which prohibits lawyers from making false statements of fact to a tribunal.