Who Was Guilty of Misconduct During Gaius Baltar's Trial?

There's a lot absurd about Battlestar Galactica's trial of Gaius Baltar. And, yes, that was part of the point. But there was serious misconduct going on, and it shall not go unpunished.

Last week, when I started this job, I asked you what you'd like to see. Destination Alpha Cygnus gave this suggestion:

It might also be cool to analyze different legal systems/issues in SF by selecting certain episodes or movies every week (eg Data's legal status in TNG; telepath control in B5; genetic discrimination in Gattaca)—and to trace their historical analogues and discuss their implications. That is, if it would interest you.

It wasn't the only comment along this line, so I'm taking and combining it with the "gimicky" suggestion. Destination Alpha Cygnus offered up a number of serious legal issues to investigate, and we'll get to them in time. But, instead, I've decided to go with the nitpicky question of Battlestar Galactica's version of legal ethics. Pretending that narrative convention and the tiny population weren't extenuating circumstances, was what happened with Romo Lampkin, Lee Adama, and William Adama misconduct?

Let's ignore that Lee was almost certainly practicing law without a license. Two ethical issues then jump out: How could William Adama sit as judge? And how could Lee have taken the stand at the end?

Adama should have absolutely recused himself from sitting as a judge in this case. Under 28 U.S.C. § 455, federal judges in American courts "shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." Which, yes, finding someone who could not have their impartiality on Baltar reasonably questioned would be difficult. And he can get a waiver from both sides in order to continue.

But that's only part (a) of this law. Part (b) includes additional situations where a judge could disqualify himself. Parts (b)(1) and (5) apply to Adama:

(1) Where he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding;

(5)He or his spouse, or a person within the third degree of relationship to either of them, or the spouse of such a person:

(ii) Is acting as a lawyer in the proceeding;

And a judge cannot get a waiver for part (b). In conclusion, there's no way Adama should not have recused himself from Baltar's trial.

At least issue was partially a plot point. In the realm of professional misconduct, the bigger problem is that Lee was called to the stand. Yes, Lampkin cites precedent that allows it. And it's not the testifying that's the issue. It's that Lee can't serve as counsel if it's likely that he'll be called as a witness. The American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct state:

(a) A lawyer shall not act as advocate at a trial in which the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness unless:

(1) the testimony relates to an uncontested issue;

(2) the testimony relates to the nature and value of legal services rendered in the case; or

(3) disqualification of the lawyer would work substantial hardship on the client.

(b) A lawyer may act as advocate in a trial in which another lawyer in the lawyer's firm is likely to be called as a witness unless precluded from doing so by Rule 1.7 or Rule 1.9.

Calling Lee to the stand was Lampkin's entire case. There's no way that it wasn't "likely" he'd be called. And Lee didn't testify about Baltar's legal services. He also didn't testify about an "unconstested" issue. I mean, maybe if he had actually testified about his father's bias (which was ostensibly why he was called), that could be seen as uncontested. It certainly seemed to be to everyone watching.

But then he testified about whether or not Baltar even committed treason. Ignoring whether that's even close to being relevant, that's so contested they're having a trial about it.

As for Lampkin, he was acting as Lee's supervisor. And therefore had a responsibility to make sure the rules were upheld. And, again, calling Lee was his strategy. He put him on the legal team for this reason. Doing that is a violation because he knew it would lead to the breaking of the testimonial rule.

So, I find both Adamas and Lampkin guilty of misconduct. Possible impeachment for Adama, which would completely useful as he never again acted as a judge in a public trial. And sanctions for Lee and Lampkin. Again, assuming Lee's a lawyer.

The trial of Baltar was, in so many ways, a farce. But it's the little things that are frustrating. Calling Lee was dramatic, but also a completely unremarked upon mess, legally.

If you have fictional legal questions, comment her, e-mail me at katharine@io9.com, or tweet me @k_trendacosta.