It's always fun to chat with folks who firmly believe the First Amendment applies to blogs. It mostly comes from commenters who insist their angry hate filled comments against the blogger be published, but it also comes from lawyers who don't believe they give up certain Constitutional Rights when they enter the Bar.
Model Rules of Professional Conduct
Maintaining The Integrity Of The Profession
Rule 8.2 Judicial And Legal Officials
(a) A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicatory officer or public legal officer, or of a candidate for election or appointment to judicial or legal office.
Over at Legal Profession Blog, we learn of a now-fired Illinois public defender suspended for 60 days for allegedly blogging about her cases while exposing client confidences, revealing her complicity in a client's fraud on a court, and referring to one judge as "clueless" and another judge as "a total asshole,"
This wasn't the first time this lawyer tangled with the Illinois Bar. Back in 2001, she:
....filed a motion to substitute a judge (recusal), that included false statements about the judge's financial obligations and credit limits. The motion also contained false allegations that the judge had conducted an ex parte interview with Barringer's client's son.
In Florida, we're all too aware of this issue. Lawyer Sean Conway called a judge a "evil unfair witch," and bought himself a Reprimand and a $1250 fine.
The lesson - if you're going to blog about judges, do it anonymously.
Seems ridiculous, but it's the way things are. Had Conway made that comment without the courage to include his real name, there would be no Reprimand, no link to any story about his comment. (P.S. the judge, widely criticized by the Bar, has decided not to seek re-election.)
Back to the suspended former PD.
The First Amendment doesn't apply to blogs. The First Amendment doesn't apply to lawyers who blog. It's a troubling issue. We go to school to become advocates, and agents of change, yet we are restricted from making certain comments about others. To some, this is troubling, to others, it is the only way we maintain integrity in the profession. Name calling is unprofessional, it demeans the profession, and should be regulated, says the Bar. To others, we show disrespect to the First Amendment by preventing ourselves from speaking our mind.
The rules of our profession cause these types of comments to be made quietly, at restaurants, in the halls, by both judges and lawyers. As judges always say, "you talk about us, we talk about you."
This is now the second lawyer I've seen sanctioned for disparaging comments about judges (although our PD here was sanctioned for other reasons as well.)
If you are a coward, and make these comments anonymously, you can make them all day, every day, with no repercussions. But put your name to your thoughts, and suffer discipline.
There is something very wrong with that.
Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.