Free Speech for Lawyers?


The court jester often spoke frankly on controversial issues. Photo © Bruce A. Campbell
The Florida Supreme Court appears to be ready to dive into the question of what can a lawyer say about a judge and still avoid being disciplined. A Florida attorney is facing discipline for writing disparaging comments about a Circuit Court Judge on a legal blog. In the blog, the attorney referred to the Judge as an “evil, unfair witch,” “unfit for her position,” and referred to her as “seemingly mentally ill.” The attorney is accused of violating Florida bar rules forbidding attorneys from impugning the qualifications of a judge and making statements about the judge known to be false or in reckless disregard for the truth. Interestingly, the lawyer apparently had cut a deal with the Florida Bar requiring a guilty plea in exchange for a public reprimand, but this deal may have been scuttled by the requests for briefing by the Florida Supreme Court. The Court has directed the attorney, as well as the Florida State Bar, to file briefs on whether the attorney’s comments are protected speech under the First Amendment. The attorney, along with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, is now defending his comments as permissible hyperbole or figurative speech. It will be interesting to see how the Florida Supreme Court treats the attorney’s comments.

For an expanded discussion of the interaction between the disciplinary rules and the First Amendment, read “What can you say about a judge without losing your law license?” published in the August 4, 2008 edition of the Texas Lawyer.

(Post publication note) This article was picked up by several sites, including:
American Lawyer
The Boston Globe [boston.com]
Connecticut Bar Association
Corporate Legal Times Magazine
The Counselor, Boston Law College
Hawaii State Bar Association
The Indiana Law Blog
Kansas City Business Journal
Law Net (Greek version)
Law Roundtable
law.com
lawjobs.com
Legal News
Practice Source
The New York Sun
et al. (Google Search for “A Primer on What Lawyers Can Say About Judges”)

One Response to “Free Speech for Lawyers?”

  1. Lexi says:

    This is great info to know.

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