This morning, two fascinating news stories share some striking similarities. And for a number of reasons, they’d probably be of interest to lawyers.

Each involves the exercise of judgment and is related to law and rules—though they are even more closely tied to ethics, according to the stories. Each involves an out-of-the-way corner of a profession that is more commonly left hidden and unexamined. And each has been brought into the light of day, causing discomfort for the powerful institutions they represent.

Both stories are on the Arizona Republic’s front page this morning.

The first probes into the question of what caused three members of the state’s clemency board to be removed at the same time. As the story opens, “The ousted members say they were dismissed for recommending clemency when [Governor Jan] Brewer thought they shouldn’t have.”

Nationwide, clemency boards are understood to be places that set a pretty high bar for inmate-applicants to hit. But the story regarding the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency suggests the Governor’s office may have set its expectations higher still. In fact, a defense lawyer is expected to charge that the new board members are ruling on cases before they have the training mandated by law.

The story doesn’t make clear where such a charge would be filed. But it may be a stretch to believe that the judicial branch will want to impinge much into the board’s activity. After all, the board’s very title includes the work “Executive.” A court may tread pretty carefully in that realm.

Nonetheless, readers were given a rare view into the board’s functioning. (We’ll see where the story goes.)

Also in the sausage-being-made context, a story regarding possible plagiarism out of Arizona State University surprises us. Not that such a thing may exist in academe, but that a charge of it has become so contentious that it makes the front page of a general-circulation newspaper. These things typically are handled in-house and never reach readers.

The story is in regard to historian Matthew Whitaker. (I’ve had occasion to meet Professor Whitaker at a few events, including a brown-bag lunch at the State Bar of Arizona and at a panel discussion including Cornel West. At each event, I found him to be pleasant, prepared and well spoken.)

Lawyers reading this story, and the one on clemency, may agree with me on one thing. Articles like this could use a citation or two. For instance, wouldn’t you like to read the law cited in the first article, which mentions the requirement that clemency board members receive training? The defense lawyer says it makes sense that the law contemplates members will receive the training before they begin exercising their judgment. The prosecutor says the law doesn’t say that. What do you think?

And the plagiarism story resides in the comfortable notion that academic dishonesty is more about ethics than about rules. You get pretty late into the story before you hear mention of ASU’s written policies on the topic: “ASU’s investigation was guided by the university’s policy on ‘Misconduct in Research’ and the American Historical Association’s professional-conduct standards.”

You can find the ASU policy here. And the AFA’s policy is here.

Meanwhile, of course, ASU has a page explaining the area most commonly thought of in this area: student dishonesty.

Few of us, of course, are going to read the policies or even the law when examining a news story. But it would serve readers better to be reminded that professions have written rules, which educated and informed people took the time to write.

Ethics are great, but let’s start by looking at the rule.

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