December 27, 2012
God's Will No Defense
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has issued a public reprimand of an attorney for false statements concerning a judge in connection with a guardianship proceeding, in which the attorney sought to keep the ward in a residential apartment owned by him and his wife.
The court rejected the attorney's defense:
Attorney Riordan's statements fall short of his ethical obligation to maintain the respect due to courts and judicial officers. The record evidence supports the referee's conclusion that Attorney Riordan's comments concerning Judge Dwyer violated the Attorney's Oath...
Attorney Riordan asserts that his sincere religious conviction and belief that he is following God's will immunizes his conduct from prosecution for professional misconduct. He believes that he and his wife "are experiencing an ongoing spiritual and religious prophetic experience" and that God "expects him to help those who can fall under guardianship."
The referee recognized, and we will not question, Attorney Riordan's sincere religious faith, but the First Amendment does not protect all statements made by attorneys. Our task is to evaluate whether the statements upon which the charges are based were either false, or made in reckless disregard of the truth.
Here, the referee considered the record evidence and properly determined that Attorney Riordan's statements about Judge Dwyer are not constitutionally protected. False statements made knowingly, or with reckless disregard for the truth, are not constitutionally protected.
The court had declined to name the attorney as guardian due to the financial conflict of interest presented by the living arrangement. (Mike Frisch)
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