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Star Trek: The Federation Rules

By Saul Jay Singer

September 9, 2016

Star Trek Enterprise

September 8 marked the 50th anniversary of the cult phenomenon Star Trek. Legal Ethics counsel Saul Jay Singer explores worker's compensation and confidentiality issues for Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike.

CAPTAIN'S LOG, STARDATE 12478.5: Two solar years ago, our raid across the boundary of the Romulan Neutral Zone ended catastrophically when Lt. Robert Alden, Esquire, a Star Fleet Command lawyer assigned to the Enterprise, was struck by the dread Klingon Belly Button Ray. On hospital planet Streptococcus II, Lt. Alden was informed by Federation Surgeon General Zevon that the weapon had left him permanently with soft, pink umbilica where his eyes had been.

When the Federation denied responsibility for Alden's medical expenses and disclaimed liability for his other damages, he retained Zcibar Xbufulin, a prominent Venusian trial attorney renowned for landing massive settlements in municipal liability cases. The Federation Department of Justice (FDOJ) played hardball with Xbufulin, refusing to give in to what it characterized as "intergalactic extortion." A few days after the lawyer rejected the Federation's final settlement offer, which he characterized as "a sad joke," Star Fleet Command terminated Alden's employment.

Pursuant to the highly classified initial report prepared by Star Fleet Command's chief counsel, Saturn Ring, Xbufulin faced several monumental obstacles in even establishing a prima facie case against the Federation, let alone in earning Alden any meaningful judgment.

First, as Ring argued, Alden was clearly injured while on duty and, as such, any private negligence or tort claim would be barred by the Federation's worker's compensation law, which sharply limits recoveries and generally preempts private claims. Second, the Federation Tort Claims Act precludes lawsuits against the Federation for negligence, and even the great Xbufulin lacked any good faith basis in fact or law to allege that the Federation intentionally put Alden in the path of the terrible Belly Button Ray, or that it otherwise could have taken steps to mitigate his damages and failed to do so. Third, any regulatory interest that the Federation has in enforcing safe workplaces aboard starships like the Enterprise can be met adequately through a

Federation Occupational Safety and Health Administration enforcement action. Fourth, Alden was terminated only after the Internal Affairs Bureau at Star Fleet Command had completed its thorough review of Alden's handling of the General Chang matter a number of years ago when, after the general threatened to use the Bird of Prey to "vaporize" him and his family, Alden had abandoned his duties and gone into hiding for several months.

Finally, even if Alden were somehow able to overcome these daunting legal hurdles, he would nonetheless be ethically barred from disclosing the Federation's confidences and secrets or using them in support of his employment action pursuant to Federation Rule 1.6 and Legal Ethics Opinion 363. Mr. Ring reported that the Federation would surely not give informed consent to such disclosure, and FDOJ lawyers would never be foolish enough to open the door so as to permit Alden to disclose Federation secrets.

However, employing a brilliant and novel strategy barely meeting the ethical mandate of Rule 3.1—which, according to Mr. Ring, was not the first time that the cunning lawyer successfully argued that existing law was inequitable and should be modified—Xbufulin succeeded in shifting trial venue to Delta.

To avoid a potentially devastating planetary civil war that would have effectively destroyed the entire Federation, a three-quarters majority of the planets in the Federation voted in favor of the still-controversial Star Date 12333.8 Deltan Natural Rights Act, an amendment to the intergalactic Constitution that, inter alia, expanded the rights of Star Fleet Command employees before a Deltan tribunal to circumvent Federation law that otherwise limited their right of action in employment suits against the Federation. Moreover, pursuant to Rules 1.6(e)(7) and 8.5(b)(1) of the Delta Rules of Professional Conduct, Star Fleet lawyers have no duty to preserve their client's confidences and secrets when they bring wrongful termination claims against their employer.

To the horror of Star Fleet Command, the jury awarded Alden a judgment of 647.3 trillion credits to compensate for what it found to be his wrongful termination. As Mr. Spock says, "This is a mere 220.75 trillion credits greater than the entire Star Fleet Command budget and approximately 617.25 trillion credits above Star Fleet's blanket liability insurance coverage."

In response to the Deltan judgment, the Federation has suspended all operations and banned expenditures for all purposes except basic life support. I have been assigned responsibility for attaining a resolution to the Alden problem. I have summoned Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Lieutenant Commander Scott, Lieutenant Karen Schwartz, and Saturn Ring, Esquire, to my quarters.

SHIP'S INTERCOM: Condition Red! Condition Red! All personnel to emergency posts!

SPOCK: Captain, Condition Red is hardly warranted. There is only a .0347 percent chance that the Klingons will attack and, even if they did, we are forbidden by Star Fleet Command from expending the 9.3 credits necessary to energize our defensive force fields.

SCOTT: Right, Capt'n, an' if Star Fleet Command doesn't release the funds necessary to purchase and replace dilithium crystals by 0800 tomorrow, my engines will disintegrate into a cloud of Kryolium dust!

KIRK: Gentlemen, gentlemen, we face a unique crisis, the most serious we have ever encountered. I ask that you set aside all peripheral concerns;Star Fleet Command is depending upon us for a solution. Mr. Spock, if you will.

SPOCK: Very well, Captain. Suing the Federation is a relatively contemporary phenomenon. Until Star Date 11988.2, planets and interplanetary confederations were largely immune from civil suit, even if their employees engaged in wrongdoing. However, Ultimate Earth Court decisions, which became the body of intergalactic common law when the Federation was formed, eroded the old legal dictum that "the Emperor is incapable of error." Now, with the three Planeticists appointed by Emperor Zquintap dominating the Ultimate Court, the pendulum has swung wildly in the other direction.

The situation has become intolerable. Last year, the Ultimate Court ruled that the Bill of Finances to the Galactic Constitution applies through the 475th Amendment to all 16.8 trillion "undocumented aliens" in the galaxy, thus imposing an unbearable financial burden on the Federation, one surely never within the original intent of the Federation's Founding Paternal-Units. We are being sued for space potholes and for discriminating against Blastulans in hiring and promotions, and every Tom, Dick, and Jaximaiq who inhales cosmic dust is blaming Star Fleet Command for its proliferation. Awards to plaintiffs and their attorneys have more than quadrupled in the last three years alone. The Alden case was almost unavoidable in this legal environment. A fascinating case.

MCCOY: Fascinating? You green-blooded descendent of a Martian reptilian life form, you call the transmutation of a human's orbs into unsightly tied umbilical cords "fascinating?" Why, I'll . . .

KIRK: Easy, Bones. Please continue, Mr. Spock.

SPOCK (eyebrows raised): I was merely commenting on the scientific curiosity of the phenomenon. Altering the genetic constitution of the organ of human sight would require . . .

KIRK: Spock, please get on with it!

SPOCK: As you wish, Captain. Lt. Alden may well be entitled to a recovery, but he'll never see more than 10 percent of it. Zcibar Xbufulin, Esquire, does not work cheap, especially on difficult and complex municipal cases, where he charges a 90 percent contingency fee.

KIRK (outraged): 90 percent? How can that possibly be ethical?

SATURN RING: The Deltan courts have repeatedly held that, in accordance with Delta Rule 1.5(a), a 90 percent contingency fee charged by a lawyer with rare skills like Zbufulin in a complex case like this against the Federation is per se reasonable. At any rate, I have appealed the Deltan judgment to a higher court, with oral argument due to commence next week.

MCCOY: A higher court? I thought the only higher intermediate appellate court in this case is . . .

RING: Yes, doctor, the appeal will be "heard" en banc by nine computers.

SPOCK: That is correct. CNN-317 models, 14.75 googolplex gigabytes, manufactured by Splack on the planet Ulnar . . .

KIRK: SPOCK!

SPOCK: Sorry, Captain.

KIRK: Lieutenant Schwartz, have you anything to add?

SCHWARTZ: As you know, Captain Kirk, I have been privileged to serve as Star Fleet Command's risk manager for over six years. In the three centuries since Star Fleet Command was established by the Federation, the single largest liability judgment against it, adjusted for inflation, has been for 9.5 billion credits. I employed all the proper procedures, evaluated fully all the potential risks, and placed 30 trillion credits of coverage. I have consulted with professionals and technicians in many fields, including the Federation's chief actuary, and there's no way this could have been anticipated, let alone covered. Why, Stardust Mutual's entire capacity is a mere millionth of the entire judgment! Even Lloyd's of Pluto wouldn't touch it. Oh, Captain, what are we going to do?

KIRK: Dr. McCoy, is there anything you can suggest?

MCCOY: Dagnab it, Jim, I'm a doctor, not an insurance agent!

KIRK (gently): I mean the medical angle, Bones.

MCCOY (mumbling): Well, Jim, it's hardly a situation akin to faking an antenna-ache to make good on a phony Epsilonian worker's compensation claim. Having examined Alden, I can tell you that his condition is real, poor man, and I have been unable to effect a cure.

RING: The Federation will have to declare bankruptcy under Chapter 22.

SPOCK: Bankruptcy? Mr. Ring, I can hardly believe my ears.

KIRK (sad smile): Neither can we, Mr. Spock, neither can we . . .

UHURU: Captain, communication from Klingon vessel!

KIRK: Put him on Screen IV, Lieutenant.

KLINGVORKIAN (from screen): I am Klingvorkian, Supreme Commander of the Klingon Empire and world-renowned bad guy. We are fully aware of your dilemma, captain, and we relish in it. Your weak, moralistic Federation, encumbered as it is by your pathetic Code of Ethics, has been undone by your foolish reliance on democratic principles and by the so-called "rights of the people." The only right that I, Klingvorkian, extend to your people is their right to die! We will attack the Enterprise in five minutes. Farewell, Captain Kirk! (Screen blanks.)

KIRK (to Spock): .0347 percent probability of a Klingon attack, eh, Mr. Science Officer?

SPOCK: But, Captain, I can hardly be held responsible for . . .

UHURU: Captain, emergency message from Star Fleet Command!

KIRK: Screen III, Lieutenant.

STAR FLEET COMMAND: Captain Kirk, we have resolved our legal and financial dilemma. You may resume full operations effective immediately.

KIRK: Scottie! Full power to shields! Evasive maneuver A-3!

SCOTT: Aye, Capt'n.

STAR FLEET COMMAND: We have reached an out-of-court settlement with Lt. Alden on his employment claim. We have agreed to his terms and, pursuant to Deltan law, he will dismiss his suit, with prejudice. Mr. Ring will return immediately to headquarters to draft the agreement.

KIRK: What were the terms of the settlement?

STAR FLEET COMMAND: Effective immediately, you are relieved of your Enterprise command, Captain. Please report to Paper Shuffler Central at 0700.

KIRK (stunned): Relieved? But, but, why . . .?

STAR FLEET COMMAND: Prepare to beam your successor aboard immediately. Star Fleet Command out. (Screen blanks.)

KIRK: I can't believe it! Who's replacing me? Scottie, beam him aboard.

SCOTT: Aye, Sir.

ALDEN: Admiral Robert Alden, U.S.S. Enterprise, reporting for duty.

SPOCK (expressionless): Fascinating.

Legal Ethics counsel Saul Jay Singer, Hope Todd, and Erika Stillabower are available for telephone inquiries at 202-737-4700, ext. 3232, 3231, and 3198, respectively, or by email at ethics@dcbar.org.