Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Lawyer's Free Speech

Here is a very important piece. A Florida criminal defense lawyer faced ethics charges for lambasting a local judge on his blog. From what I can tell, the judge probably deserved the tongue lashing. But what she deserved, or didn't, is not the point. The piece noted:
The [free speech] debate resurfaced after the Bar found probable cause against Fort Lauderdale, Fla., criminal defense attorney Sean Conway for calling Broward Circuit Judge Cheryl Aleman an "evil, unfair witch" who is "seemingly mentally ill" on a blog about the courthouse. Formal charges against Conway are pending. Bar rules ban attorneys from making statements that impugn the integrity of a judge or the judiciary. Attorneys who violate the rules of professional conduct could face discipline ranging from a reprimand to disbarment.
The important question concerned the lawyer's right to speak freely. In other words, did Conway relinquish his right to criticize a sitting judge because he [Conway] was a member of the state bar? It seemed judges could stomach criticism levied against them in the relative privacy of cocktail parties. But when the criticism hit the internet, via the blawgosphere, they got really mad. A noted commentator on the case said:
Only since the advent of Internet and blogs did things get widely disseminated that at one time would be discussed at a cocktail party, []. Most lawyers are usually pretty cautious to avoid that kind of public commentary out of respect for the system, even if they don't respect the individual judge.
One argument asserts lawyers must not say things reflecting negatively upon the judiciary. This criticism supposedly causes the public to lose confidence in their judges. Conversely, the other side argues lawyers have a responsibility to educate the public. If a judge is conducting themselves improperly, the public has a right, indeed the need, to know about it.

I don't make a habit of bad-mouthing local judges in Bryan/College Station. I doubt it makes for harmonious relationships at the courthouse. But hey, if I wanted to rip into a local judge I hope I have the right to do it.

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