Monday, March 28, 2011

Thinking Out Loud With Instant Communication: Another Republican Public Sector Attorney Resigns

Carlos Lam, a Johnson County deputy prosecutor, recently resigned over an email sent to the Wisconsin Governor, suggesting a "false flag" operation that would discredit union protests. This comes on the heels of a twitter comment by Deputy Attorney General Jeff Cox last month when Cox suggested live ammunition on protesters.  Cox was terminated by Attorney General Greg Zoeller.

I know Cox chiefly through eminent domain litigation I've been involved with.  We also have debated politics a bit.  I figured out pretty quickly that Cox likes to say outrageous things to provoke a response and stir debate.   It would be a mistake to take some of his pronouncements - such as using live ammunition on protesters - as serious.

Carlos Lam
I met Carlos Lam through Republican politics.  Carlos, who is a long-time Washington Township Republican party worker, is an "idea guy," a person who is constantly considering various ways of approaching issues from a conservative political viewpoint.  While many of Carlos' ideas are good, others like the "false flag" idea shouldn't see the light of day.

Both Cox and Lam are very intelligent young men.  Unfortunately both are victims of the new media, the era of instant, twitter, Facebook, etc, in which thoughts can be quickly memorialized into writing,

In the "old days" if you had an idea you wanted to communicate you'd sit down and write a formal letter.  Crafting the letter takes time which allows for reflection.   Once you wrote the letter, you would still have to track down an address, affix postage, and take the envelope to the mailbox.  Those of us who remember writing formal letters - as opposed to email - have experienced times when we have, on further reflection, decided against sending the letter.  With email that time for reflection has been reduced to a fraction of what it used to be.  With twitter the bridge between thought and publication is an extremely short one.

While the advantages of instant communications are substantial, there is definitely a downside.  It reduces thoughts more quickly into the written word...which then be taken out of context and/or misrepresented and used against the writer.

God forbid that every thought that enters our head becomes published, a permanent record of our lives. Yet we are coming closer to that every day.

What bothers me most about the Cox and Lam incident is that both attorneys had comfortable public sector jobs with good salaries and benefits that they suddenly lost    Those jobs are highly sought after by attorneys.  It is no slam dunk that they can go into the private sector, oversatured with attorneys willing to work long hours for $35,000 a year and no benefits, and get a comparable job.

I certainly wish Carlos Lam and Jeff Cox the best as their careers move forward.  They're both good men whose life's work should not be judged on the basis of couple bad ideas made turned into public fodder.


Pete Boggs said...

That's very well said Mr. Ogden.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Thanks, Pete.

Maple Syrup Maven said...

It would be a mistake to take some of his pronouncements - such as using live ammunition on protesters - as serious.

You've got to be kidding!

As a law enforcement official, he (and you) should know better.

People are responsible for their actions (and social media posts are "actions"), even if they're Republican.

Paul K. Ogden said...


I don't agree. We don't punish people in this country for dumb speech. We punish people for ACTIONS. YOu seem to think speech and actions are the same when they are not. There is nothing illegal in what either did. Saying stupid things is not illegal.

I am a big believer in free speech. Ironically under the current interpretation of the First Amendment thanks to the misguided Garcetti case, Cox and Lam's speech is actually more constitutionally protected than if they would have ratted out their boss for violating the law.

As far as R's and D's, I take the exact same approach. The right to express one's though applies equally to people regardless of one's political views.

Kilroy said...

Didn't Mr. Lam quit after he was caught lying about the situation? The email by itself wasn't so bad, but lying is a pretty serious breach of attorney ethics.

Septly said...

Paul, I like your blog, but I disagree with your argument.

Mr. Cox and Mr. Lam were not "punished." They were terminated for saying things which called their professional judgment into question. A private employer can (and will) terminate an employee who says something which calls that employee's professional judgment into question and casts the employer in a bad light, and when the government is acting as an employer, I believe it has authority to exercise the same discretion. I believe both Mr. Cox and Mr. Lam stepped well beyond the bounds of fair comment on a matter of public interest.

I have no objection to dumb ideas, I frequently have them myself. Nor do I believe Mr. Cox or Mr. Lam committed any illegal act by making their remarks. However, "free speech" is never free from consequences, and all rights have related responsibilities. Both men failed to adhere to professional standards when making their public comments, and so they were terminated. Had I made similar remarks, I would expect to be terminated.

In my opinion, the main lesson from these two incidents is that we should all think before we speak publicly (or "tweet," as the case may be).

Ellen said...

Both men failed to adhere to professional standards when making their public comments, and so they were terminated.


Anonymous said...

In the old days, when the idea guys weren't so subject to scrutiny, they could propose using live ammo against protestors and the public wouldn't hear about it.

My mistake. I thought this was about Egypt, not Indiana.

Anonymous said...

The First Amendment prevents government officials from being fired for proposing the mass murder of citizens? Not my copy.