Tag Archives: ethical impropriety

The Ethics Challenge

The Indianapolis Star actually engaged in journalism yesterday, and the result wasn’t comforting: a lengthy story about DCS director and former Juvenile Court Judge James Payne. Payne abused his position and fought the professionals in his own agency in a case involving his grandchildren.

You can read the details in the Star, which devoted significant space to the story.

My question isn’t so much about the sordid accusations and depressing details of the Payne son’s divorce and custody battle. It is bemusement over the elder Payne’s indignant refusal to recognize his own ethical transgression. When I was in law school–and the Judge and I are roughly the same age–there was a mandatory course in legal ethics. Conflicts of interest and abuses of power were central to that course. But even if the content of law school classes has faded, the Judge has always presented himself as a deeply religious man; he has worn his Christianity on his sleeve. Isn’t there something about “do unto others” that might have alerted him to the impropriety of his behavior?

Governor Daniels’ office was quick to distance itself from the Judge, protesting a complete unawareness of his inappropriate involvement in the case involving his own grandchildren. I believe the Governor–after all, he has been unaware of half-billion dollar “errors” in his administration, too. But the Governor has a history of turning a blind eye toward behaviors that raise ethical questions–notably, hiring a well-connected law firm to represent the state in the IBM lawsuit. That firm represents ACS–yes, the same ACS that made out like a bandit in the deal to manage Indianapolis’ parking meters.

ACS was IBM’s partner in the huge contract to manage Indiana’s welfare eligibility operations, and (unlike IBM) wasn’t terminated when the problems with that privatization effort became too embarrassing to ignore. When reporters raised questions about the propriety of hiring ACS’ lawyers to sue its former partner, the firm defended itself by pointing out that it had disclosed its conflicts–in a letter that took seven pages to detail them. (Maybe I’m dense, but I’ve never understood why disclosing an impropriety makes it go away.)

It was all very cozy. All in the family, you might say.

The real lesson here, I suppose, is that we can’t depend upon any administration to police itself in order to avoid self-serving behaviors. We need watchdogs–real newspapers to report on our elected and appointed officials. It was nice to see the Star acting like a real newspaper for a change.