Ethics case study: Jack and Leslie Johnson case

Final Paper

Introduction

This paper conducts an ethical analysis of three recent events. Section 1 conducts an ethical analysis of a recent event dealing with the decisions made in an area of criminal justice; the selected event for discussion is the Jack and Leslie Johnson case. Section 2 conducts an ethical analysis of events from the film analysis project (Black Rain). Section 3 conducts an ethical analysis of a personal moral decision that I personally faced. Lastly, section 4 provides a discussion on the aspects of my own moral theory including the focus of making moral decisions.

Section 1: Current Event Ethical Analysis and Discussion- Jack and Leslie Johnson Case

Background and analysis of the event

The Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor launched an investigation to determine whether Jack Johnson and other four members of the Prince George County were soliciting favors and bribes. During November 12, 2010, Jack and Leslie were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on accounts of political corruption in the county. Jack and Leslie Johnson were convicted for destruction of evidence and witness tampering. Court documents reveal that Jack and Leslie Johnson took kickbacks and bribes to help developers acquire federal grants for house developments. It is believed that Jack Johnson took at least $ 200,000 in the form of bribes and bribes (Spivack, 2011). On the other hand, Leslie Johnson was charged with accepting at least $ 400,000 in the form of bribes from developers during her tenure as a top official in the county.

Stakeholders Involved

            According to Timmons (2012), every decision made has an impact on other people; as a result, people have a moral obligation to take into consideration the ethical implications that their decisions have on others. Each individual, institution or a group affected by any decision is a stakeholder having a moral claim on the individual who made the decision. Timmons (2012) asserts that ethical decision-making entails taking into consideration how the decision is likely to affect others and that considering the impacts on stakeholders helps in broadening the considerations, which plays an integral role in helping people to circumvent unintended harm. With regard to the above event, there are a number of stakeholders linked to Jack and Leslie Johnson’s decision to engage in acts of political corruption. The first stakeholder affected by Jack and Leslie Johnson’s actions and holding a moral claim to Jack and Johnson are members of the public. As voters, members of the public entrusted Jack Johnson to act in accordance with their interest; however, this is not the case since Jack Johnson took solicited favors from developers. The second stakeholder likely to be affected by Jack and Leslie Johnson’s actions are other developers who were denied fairness in when awarding federal grants. When holding the position of the top county official, Jack Johnson had the duty to ensure fair treatment of all developers when awarding grants; however, he violated this requirement and embarked on soliciting favors and bribes in order to award the grants to developers who paid bribes. The third stakeholder in this case is the Prince George’s County Council, which suffered negatively in terms of its public image caused by Jack and Leslie Johnson’s decision to engage in bribery and accepting kickbacks.

Analysis of the Moral Problem Being Faced

A moral problem is defined as a conflict, whereby, from a moral perspective, all the choices available are either comparatively appropriate, or not wrong. “Not wrong” in this sense implies that the choices are morally permissible, wherein no moral rules are likely to be broken. With respect to this case, the options available to John and Leslie Johnson were morally permissible, in the sense that they could have opted not to take kickbacks and bribes and let the federal grants for housing be issued fairly; instead, they broke the moral rule be embarking on bribery and taking kickbacks, which is morally appropriate. Other options available to Jack Johnson that are morally permissible in this scenario include ensuring that only qualified and eligible developers receive the federal grants; deny those developers bribing him the federal grants; or quit office they knew they were unfit (in the sense that they are corrupt) to hold public office. It is evident that Jack and Leslie Johnson had a myriad of morally permissible options; however, they opted to break the moral rule by engaging in political corruption.

Analysis of the Decision Made and the Consequences of the Decision

There is no doubt that every decision made has consequences; therefore, moral decision-making involves analyzing the consequences that each decision has on stakeholders. Timmons (2012) points out that the ripple effects of decisions can sometimes be extensive and dramatic. In the moral problem presented above, Jack and Johnson Leslie opted to break the moral rule by engaging political corruption. It is obvious that John and Leslie Johnson did not think beyond themselves, and embarked on a self-centered thought process. There are a several potential reasons that could have prompted Jack and Leslie Johnson to engage in political corruption. The first and the most likely reason is for personal financial gains; perhaps, Jack and Leslie Johnson were in need of money and saw taking bribes and kickbacks as a means to an end. The second reason could be that the opportunity to take kickbacks and bribes presented itself, basing on the fact that Jack was holding the highest office in Prince George’s County, and Jack Johnson took advantage of the opportunity. There is no doubt that this decision had overreaching consequences for the various stakeholders. First, it resulted in an unfair awarding of the federal grants for the eligible developers who applied for the same. Second, Jack and Leslie Johnson’s decision resulted in a tainted public image for Prince George’s County Council. Third, this decision resulted in the indictment of the decision-makers, in this case, Jack and Leslie Johnson. Fourth, their decision increases the likelihood that the developers who bribed them will also be facing criminal indictments. Lastly, their decision denied eligible developers the chance to benefit from the federal grants.

Moral Theory that was Instrumental in Making the Decision

The moral theories that were instrumental in making this decision are moral subjectivism and ethical egoism. Under moral subjectivism, the subject (decision-maker) determines what is right and wrong, and acts in accordance what he/she feels or thinks is right or wrong. Timmons (2012) asserts that, in most cases, moral subjectivism results in the denial of ethical principles and there is no basis to criticize one’s actions. With regard to this case, it is likely that Jack and Leslie Johnson actions were based on their own perceptions and thoughts of what is right; perhaps, the do not see political corruption as a wrong doing. With regard to ethical egoism, self-interest determines what is right or wrong, which implies that it is immoral for a person to act against his/her personal interest. According to ethical egoism, people often act in a manner that seeks to maximize their self-interest and that human beings are selfish in nature. In the aforementioned event, there is no doubt that Jack and Leslie Johnson acted for personal financial gains.

Possible Alternative Decisions

There are a number of alternative decisions that Jack and Leslie could have made under the same circumstances. The first alternative decision could have been opting not to engage in political corruption by not taking bribes and ensuring that the awarding of grants was a fair process. This is in line with the Kantian theory, which posits that people ought to do their duty. In this regard, Jack and Leslie Johnson had a duty to act in accordance with interests of the people who put them in office. The second alternative decision could have been opting to quit or resign as the executive of Prince George’s County if he deemed himself unfit to hold office because he was corrupt. This is in line with the utilitarianism principle, wherein an action is considered right or wrong depending on the consequences of the decision. In this case, bribery and corruption could not have occurred and that the process of awarding federal grants for housing programs could have been fair, assuming that a non-corrupt individual could have replaced him. In this case, a proper decision would have been for Jack and Leslie to quit their offices because they are corrupt; this would have resulted in maximum benefits for every stakeholder.

Section 2: Project Ethical Analysis and Discussion: Nick and Charlie’s Decision to Chase Sato and Take him into Custody after Killing Japanese Men at the Restaurant

Background and Analysis of the Event

            While they were having lunch at the Italian restaurant, Nick Conklin and his partner, Vincent Charlie, stumbled upon two Japanese men having a friendly conversation with a number of Italian gangsters. Another Japanese man together with several armed colleagues entered the restaurant and killed the leader of the Japanese group. After that, Nick and his partner decided to chase and take into custody the leader of the Japanese group that committed the murders. Nick later found out that the person he took into custody was a Yakuza gangster, whose name was Sato, and who is due for extradition to Osaka, Japan, so he handed him over to the Japanese police.

Stakeholders Involved

            There a number of stakeholders involved in this incident who are likely to be affected with the decision made by Nick and his partner. The stakeholders included Sato, who may be either taken into custody or set free according to Nick’s decision; the Japanese and Italian men having a friendly conversation at the restaurant, who are the victims of this attack; and members of the public, who will benefit through increased public safety if Sato is taken into custody. Other institutional stakeholders include the Japanese Police, who had been searching for Sato for a very long time. All these individuals and institutions are either directly or indirectly affected by the nature of the decision made by Nick and his partner.

Analysis of the Moral Problem Being Faced

The moral in this case lies in the fact whether Nick and his partner, Vincent, should have chased Sato following the attack at the restaurant. Sato and his henchmen were armed, and they came into the restaurant and killed fellow Japanese. Nick and Vincent had to choose either to chase Sato and arrest him or just disregard the incident and continue with their daily routine. There is no doubt that these options are morally permissible and can be justified using the various moral theories. On one hand, it was their obligation as police officers to arrest criminals and take them into custody. On the other hand, they could have opted not to risk their lives by chasing Sato, thereby ignoring the incident and continuing with their daily routine.

Analysis of the Decision Made and the Consequences of the Decision

The primary reason why Nick and his partner opted to chase and take Sato into custody could have been motivated by the fact they were exercising their duty as policemen to protect the public from harm by arresting criminals and taking them into custody. There are a number of consequences associated with this decision to chase Sato. First, they managed to arrest and take Sato into custody, who was a murderer; thus, the decision made by Nick and his partner helped in increasing public safety. The second consequence of the decision is that it played a significant role in Nick and his partner being sent to Japan to hand over Sato, which would later result to the death of Nick’s partner; this could not have happened if Sato would not have been taken into custody in the first place.

Moral Theory Instrumental in Making the Decision

This decision can be best explained using the deontological theory and the utilitarian ethical theory. According to deontological theory, people must adhere to their duties and obligations when in an ethical dilemma; as a result, a person should observe his/her duties and obligations to the society since upholding one’s obligation and duty is perceived as being morally right (Timmons, 2012). In this regard, Nick and his partner had the duty to protect the public from criminals and criminal acts; therefore, it was their duty to take Sato into custody, because they had witnessed him and his group of henchmen committing murder. On the other hand, the utilitarian ethical theory assumes that an action is morally right depending on its outcomes; therefore, a choice that results in the maximum benefit to most people is considered ethically right. In this regard, Nick and his partner acted on accounts that taking Sato into custody will result in increased public safety creating a harmonious society. Therefore, Nick and Vincent’s actions could have resulted in a greater good.

Possible Alternative Decisions

            The only possible decision that Nick and his partner could have made in this case could have been to ignore the incidence and continue with their daily routines. This decision could be justified using the theory of moral subjectivism, wherein the decision-maker determines what is right or wrong depending on his/her thoughts and feelings. In this regard, Nick and his partner could have just felt that ignoring the incident after all is the right thing to do.

Section 3: Personal Ethical Analysis and Discussion

Background and Analysis of the Event

While in senior-high school, I received invitations, together with two friends of mine, to attend a fraternity party hosted at the local college. My mother gave me the permission to attend the party on condition that I return home not later than midnight. My friends and I were having a good time, and by midnight, we decided to stay at the party a little longer. I knew that if I called home to inform my mother that I would be late, she would be angry and demand I return home immediately. As a result, I decided not to call home and opted to come up with an excuse later. The worst case was that I was grounded. If I had opted to leave the party, I would have disappointed my friends because they would have been compelled to leave also.

Stakeholders Involved

The stakeholders involved in this case were my mother and my friends. My mother is the one who gave me the permission to attend the party; as a result, she had to be informed of whether I would be returning home in time or would be late in order to avoid unnecessary worries. Therefore, my decision would have a direct effect on my mother’s worrying levels. My friends accompanied to the party, which implies that any decision I made affected them directly.

Analysis of the Moral Problem Being Faced

According to my mother’s instructions, I was supposed to be back home by midnight; however, by midnight we having a great time that we did not wish to break off. The morally permissible options were to call home and inform my mother that I would be late (which she would have resisted vehemently and demanded I return home) or continue staying at the party and come up an excuse later. At the same time I was at a dilemma because, if I opted to go home, I would have disrupted the good time my friends were having.

Analysis of the Decision Made and the Consequences of the Decision

In the event, I decided not to call my mother and inform him that I will be coming home late; instead, I opted to extend my stay at the party and come up with an excuse to cover up my extended stay at the party. It is evident that this decision had ripple effects. First, there is no doubt that my mother’s level of worry increased as time went by; it is arguable that I was morally accountable for the emotional pain associated with my mother’s worrying levels. In addition, the parents of my friends experienced the same emotional pain linked to the worry that they had because they did not where their children were at that time of the night. Whether I had changed my behavior and critically thought about the potential consequences that my decision had on stakeholders depended on my degree of ethical commitment. Timmons (2012) asserts that stakeholder concept in moral decision making compels people to be morally responsible for their actions.

Moral Theory in Making Instrumental in Making the Decision

            The moral theory instrumental in making this decision was ethical egoism, where self-interest determines what is right or wrong. In this regard, an action is considered right if it is in accordance with one’s self-interest. It is evident that my decision did not think beyond myself and my friends. Basing on my self-interest, I knew figured out what I wanted and decided that I would come up with an excuse as a solution to the moral problem. This was a case of self-centered decision-making. I disregarded the fact that my mother’s worrying would affect her negatively; instead, the decision was based on what was best for me.

Possible Alternative Decision

            The alternative decision in this case would have been to call my mother and inform her that I would be coming home late. This decision is best described by the theory of utilitarianism, whereby an action is deemed right or wrong basing on the overall goodness resulting from the consequences following an action. An action is considered moral if it results to maximum goodness, which in this case, I would have relieved my mother of the pain, I would have relieved myself of the need lie, I would have gained satisfaction from staying true to my ethical commitment, my friends would have also informed their parents saving them the same agony that I was going through as well as their parents. The second alternative decision that I could have made would have been to follow the instructions issued by my mother and return home on time as required; this decision is best described by the utilitarianism theory as above, and the Kantian theory, wherein an action is considered right of it follows obligation, which in this case, I had the obligation to be back home by midnight.

Section 4: Personal Theories

Stakeholder First Theory

Right and wrong depends on the ripple effects that the decision has on stakeholders.

Basic Ideas

Every decision made by an individual has an effect on other people, even the most private ones. For instance, private eating habits have an impact on one’s health, which subsequently affects one’s family. Therefore, people with good moral character have a moral duty to take into account the ethical implications that their decisions have on other people. Moral decision making involves giving a rigorous thought regarding the people whom one’s actions may possibly affect; the focus is on avoiding unintended harm to other people.

Other key concepts

  • There is no action/decision that is inherently wrong or right; it depends on the consequences on that the action has on the stakeholders;
  • Personal interests or preferences carry a lesser weight when evaluating the consequences of the decision; in other words, the decision-maker is the least significant stakeholder;
  • It is the obligation of the decision maker to foresee the likely outcomes and try to circumvent unjustified and unintended harm to other people

Evaluation of the Theory

The strength of the stakeholder first theory is that it reinforces people to confront the idea of, and embrace moral responsibility drawing upon the fact that their decisions do not affect them alone; rather, it results in ripple effects. The concept of responsibility for consequences implies that decision-makers ought to exercise problem-solving and reasoning (ethical competency) in order to reach the best decision with best outcomes.

This theory is applicable to every individual in any situation involving critical decision making. As a result, I could follow this theory on a regular basis.

Conclusion

            From the discussion, I have gained important insights relating to how moral theories determine how people make decisions in their personal and professional circles. One of the most common patterns in all the discussions is the aspect of consequences, in the sense that every decision made has an effect on other people as well, which poses the need to give it a critical thought before choosing a given course of action. I believe that the information learn throughout this course will beneficial as I progress in life because I will be faced by other complex decision-making situations that will need the application of moral theories learnt in this course.

 

References

Scott, R. (Director). (1989). Black Rain [Motion Picture].

Spivack, M. (2011, September 12). Leslie Johnson sentenced to one year and one day in prison. Retrieved April 18, 2013, from Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/crime-scene/post/leslie-johnson-scheduled-to-be-sentenced/2011/12/08/gIQAkwKZhO_blog.html

Timmons, M. (2012). Moral Theory: An Introduction. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

 

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