Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lawyers, Judges, and the First Amendment

Here, FindLaw's Julie Hilden wades into the deep waters of lawyers who blog about judicial behavior. Notes Ms. Hilden,

Recently, The New York Times covered the case of Florida attorney Sean Conway, who suffered a reprimand from the Florida Bar when he called a judge an "Evil, Unfair Witch" on a blog frequented by criminal defense attorneys such as himself.

Importantly, Conway's harsh, childish words were coupled with some reasoned substantive points....The case went to the Florida Supreme Court, where the ACLU submitted an amicus brief supporting Conway. Despite strong arguments by the ACLU, the Florida Supreme Court still affirmed the Bar's imposition of a reprimand and a $1200 fine based on Conway's remarks. (Conway agreed to that punishment, most likely simply so that he could avoid a worse penalty, such as suspension or disbarment.)

The case raises an important question: Can state bars constitutionally forbid attorneys from blogging their negative opinions about judges, or do they infringe First Amendment rights by doing so?

The blog referred to in the New York Times piece isn't the only one on which judges might find themselves rated. Others are Underneath Their Robes and The Robing Room, both devoted to the federal judiciary. On NPR's Talk of the Nation last week, guest commentators discussed lawyer rating of judges as part of a larger conversation on social media in courtrooms.

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