Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Amy E. Colbert
Ethical breaches committed by professionals are an important problem, both within the professions and for society as a whole. In this study, I examined breaches committed in one of the oldest and most-regulated professions, law, across three states. Using a sample of 377 actual disciplinary cases, I quantitatively evaluated the breaches and the punishments assessed to determine if justice is being applied proportionally and consistently. This study showed several potential disconnects between how decision-makers say they will punish, and how they actually punish. Punishment theory states that punishments should be applied in accordance with the blameworthiness of the offense and offender. I identified the factors in these cases that should correspond to blameworthiness, and found that some of the theorized factors (such as target and intentionality) did not matter in determining punishment. The study showed that neither prior good acts nor prior discipline mattered for punishment. It also showed that an offender’s noncooperation with his or her own investigation may be one of the most important factors in determining punishment, which raises questions of justice. Additionally, my study shows that impaired professionals who commit ethical breaches may be treated differently than unimpaired professionals. While mental impairment or any kind of substance abuse ought to be mitigating factors, only professionals with alcohol problems were treated more leniently. Textual analysis revealed that decision-makers used a significantly more passive tone when dealing with alcohol-impaired offenders.
When professionals commit ethical breaches, they harm their clients, their professions, and often themselves. These offenders are punished, often in a very public manner. However, there are no large-scale studies examining whether these punishments are applied proportionally and consistently, according to the characteristics of the offender and his or her offense.
I examine 377 actual disciplinary cases from a highly regulated profession (law) in three states. I found there may be important disconnects between how the decision-makers say they will punish, and how they actually punish. I found that punishments are not being applied consistently across states. And, I found that professionals impaired by alcohol are receiving different treatment than other offenders.
This study delves into the questions of why we punish, who we punish, and how we punish them. It contrasts the law’s stated goals of punishment with heretofore-unknown latent factors that are statistically important in determining actual punishments. And, it seeks to explore the special problems facing impaired professionals.
publicabstract, Discipline, Ethics, Professional, Punishment
Copyright 2015 Andrew John Hosmanek