July 14, 2010

Plagiarism Renders Scott McInnis Unfit to Practice Law or Govern

By Julian Dunraven, J.D. M.P.A.

Honorable Friends:

Yesterday’s Denver Post reported that Scott McInnis plagiarized the work of Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory J. Hobbs in articles McInnis drafted for the Hasan Family Foundation. The foundation paid McInnis $300,000 for these articles.

After the story broke, Mr. McInnis blamed a researcher for the problem and claimed in his own press release that the plagiarism was unintentional. This is rubbish.

Mr. McInnis is certainly familiar with academic and professional writing standards; he is a doctor of law, after all. Thus, he should know he has an obligation to review any material submitted by a research assistant. However, he should also know that, if he intends to use whole pages of text submitted by his research assistant, then he has a responsibility to list the research assistant as a minor coauthor and cite his contributions. Mr. McInnis failed to do either of these things. Instead, he claims he took whole passages of text, supposedly submitted by an assistant, added them to his article, and represented it all as original and finished work, but somehow did so unintentionally. In order to believe such acts can be accomplished unintentionally, we have to believe that Mr. McInnis was not in control of his own body or mind. Perhaps he was possessed at the time. Otherwise, he is lying. Which do you suppose is more likely?

Plagiarism represents the height of intellectual dishonesty and reveals a complete lack of academic integrity. Not so long ago, virtually all conservatives and most liberals agreed that a similar lack of academic integrity rendered Ward Churchill unfit to teach at a university. I cannot now find any ethical way to apply a lesser standard to a man who seeks, not simply to lecture a few dozen students in a classroom, but to govern the entire state of Colorado.

During law school, I sat on the faculty’s academic affairs committee as a student member. During one of our meetings, we discussed what to do about a few students who had indulged in plagiarism. The guilty students put up the same defense McInnis now offers. They claimed they did not fully understand that they were plagiarizing and that it was all unintentional.

I had no sympathy for such excuses. The idea that anyone can get into a top tier law school like the University of Colorado and not understand plagiarism is absurd. Thus, I recommended immediate expulsion for these students. The professors, however, did not want to appear unmerciful. They simply gave the students failing grades in the classes in which they were caught plagiarizing. The law school then forwarded a report of the incidents to the Colorado Supreme Court’s Board of Law Examiners, detailing the penalties discussed and imposed. The Board of Law Examiners, however, agreed with me. None of these students were permitted to sit for the Bar Examination—they were not permitted to become practicing attorneys.

Already a practicing attorney, McInnis cannot be prevented from taking the bar exam. Nonetheless, I strongly suspect that the Colorado Supreme Court will soon review McInnis’ actions and sanction him for violating Rule 8.4 of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. Anyone seeking to file a complaint about McInnis’ conduct should contact the Attorney Regulation Counsel.

Plagiarism renders a person unfit to teach at a university because academic dishonesty undermines trust in all legitimate scholarship. Plagiarism renders a person unfit to practice law because a person who would lie about a mere academic paper cannot hope to be trusted with protecting both the finances and liberties of his clients—not to mention the integrity of the justice system. The temptation to lie becomes too severe for such an unprincipled person. Yet, neither a professor nor any individual lawyer holds such public trust as a governor of a state.

The Tea Party movement, in its call for accountability in our public servants, reminds us that this issue of trustworthiness is of paramount importance today. The Republican Party is laudably attempting to address these concerns and redeem its past mistakes by demanding responsible limited government always accountable to the people. Mr. McInnis, however, has dishonored himself and proven totally unworthy of the people’s trust. Yet he has the audacity to ask the Republican Party to nominate him as its candidate for governor. After the Republican fury over Ward Churchill, nominating McInnis would be the height of hypocrisy and further alienate already disillusioned voters and Tea Party activists.

For these reasons, I must regrettably join in the call for Mr. McInnis to withdraw from the gubernatorial race in order to spare himself and our Party from further embarrassment. At this point, no ethical Republican could vote for him without shame or with any expectation of reform in government as usual. If plagiarism demonstrates such unprincipled character as to make a man unfit to teach and an attorney unfit to practice law, then it should certainly render a candidate unfit to be the governor of Colorado.

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