Court Weighs In Loudly On Complacency

Not oddly for a speaker on ethics, I suppose, I find myself frequently addressing the dangers of complacency. One specific concern among many is that it is a huge ‘red flag’ for both legal and ethical problems whenever something is justified by the statement, “I’m sure it’s fine. That’s the way we always do it here.” Though the courts frequently weigh in on this, it’s not often in well-publicized cases.

This week, however, in the midst of the many legal cases affecting the foreclosure crisis, the New York Times reported on an October ruling involving Deutsche Bank in which a judge did, in fact, weigh in quite publicly. On November 15th, the Times reported that Judge Boyko stated of the practice in question, “The institutions seem to adopt the attitude that since they have been doing this for so long, unchallenged, this practice equates with legal compliance.” The Times summary – which I thought was masterfully stated – was simply, “A long practice is not legal compliance.”

On one hand, all this seems perfectly obvious. On the other hand, the reality is that we all get lulled into practices carried forward out of unchallenged habit rather than thoughtful, purposeful, values-based choices. Until we take the time to discern the degree to which our behavior is truly aligned with our stated values – and, in turn, with both legal and ethical mandates – each of us is every bit at as much risk for inappropriate behavior as has been Deutsche Bank in this case.

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