Richardson Outlines Moral Role In Conflict of Interest Situations
The main value of conflict-of-interest laws is to "keep up appearance," Elliot L. Richardson '41, a Boston attorney, told the Harvard Student Bar Association Wednesday night.
He explained that such laws, designed to keep legislators from using their public positions for private advantage, are meant not so much to "remove temptation" as to avoid situations where public suspicions might be aroused.
As an illustration, Richardson noted that for a lawyer-legislator to represent a bookie in legal proceedings would be "inappropriate," though not necessarily illegal or immoral.
In his speech, the first in a projected series of talks by attorneys on "Lawyers' Problems of Conscience," Richardson stated that whereas lawyers' moral problems are not essentially different from anyone else's, his profession frequently exposes him both to pressure to act "wrongly" and to choices between courses of action almost equally justifiable.
Pressure for such favors as keeping someone's name out of proceedings, which Richardson faced in prosecuting the Goldfine case, presents a straight-forward problem not peculiar to lawyers, he noted: the "moral" course is, naturally, to resist the pressure.
A conflict between two equally justifiable motives is more difficult of resolution. Richardson illustrated this with the situation of a lawyer who has turned up facts which could help his opponent, but which the opposing attorney does not know. His own reaction in this case would be, he said, to keep the facts to himself.
He would make this decision, Richardson said, because of the relationship between prosecution and defense attorneys in America--essentially one of adversaries. In Europe, on the other hand, where legal proceedings are more like collaborative "quests for truth," the reverse decision might be proper.