Monday, October 13, 2003

Free Speech Rights of Attorneys


Look out, lawyer bloggers....



The blog of

A Sassy Lawyer in Philippine Suburbia

refers to a decision just handed down by



New Britain Superior Court Judge William P. Murray in

Notopoulos v. Statewide Grievance Committee



a decision which is reported by Scott Brede in The Connecticut Law Tribune, October 13, 2003,

under the title

"No First Amendment Protection for Lawyer's Rants

Judge: high bar standards apply to attorneys' personal lives, too".



The above reported article is reproduced at law.com



Notopoulos wrote a harshly critical letter to a Probate Judge and was reprimanded by the bar.

Notopoulos claimed he had a free-speech right, acting as a private citizen - not in his capacity as an attorney - to criticize the judge.

The court held:

"In the context of disciplinary proceedings, an attorney's right to free speech must be balanced with the state's interest in preserving the integrity of the judicial system," " ... Here, the significant state interest in preserving public confidence in the judicial system outweighs the free speech rights of Notopoulos to make reckless accusations about the integrity of a probate judge."



It is arguable whether Judge Murray's chilling decision concords with the

1974 federal court ruling in Polk v. The State Bar of Texas,

where U.S. District Court Judge Robert M. Dunn opined:

"This court rejects the contention ... that in order to maintain the general esteem of the public in the legal profession ... conduct of an attorney in all matters must be above and beyond that conduct of nonlawyers." However, Judge Murray does not refer to the Polk case, even though cited by Notopoulos.



The question remains: To what degree are the free-speech rights of a lawyer admitted to the bar, acting as a private citizen, limited by his responsibilities as an attorney and by the rules of his respective bar assocation. This has not come up yet with regard to opinions voiced in blogs, but I am sure it will. The bar associations will not leave out this opportunity to exert their powers over their members, as is their wont.

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