Friday, March 31, 2023

Emergency Suspension Imposed

The Florida Supreme Court has imposed an emergency suspension of an attorney

 Barnett posted on social media, and in other communications and/or filings disparaged and/or impugned a variety of legal and law enforcement organizations, and used threats of violence that are contrary to the administration of justice. Barnett’s language included a profanities and threats to kill numerous individuals and blow up the Florida Supreme Court.

Tallahassee Democrat reported on his arrest

A one-time assistant public defender in the midst of a Florida Bar disciplinary hearing was arrested for allegedly emailing and tweeting violent threats to a state attorney, a lawyer and the Florida Bar.

Alex Barnett, 34, was charged Tuesday with making a written or electronic threat to kill or do bodily harm or conduct an act of terrorism, according to Leon Circuit Court records.

On Friday, a series of tweets purportedly written by Barnett in May were sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. According to a probable cause affidavit, he wrote, "I want to ... blow up the courthouse," in reference to his bar hearings in Tallahassee.

The initial communications also included "a pattern of threatening communications to multiple members" of State Attorney Dave Aronberg's office. For example, on Dec. 29, he tweeted "I got my gun aronberg."

Leading up to his Tuesday appearance in Tallahassee, Barnett emailed a South Florida attorney on Friday saying "Acts of terrorism are my favorite! KABOOM, (expletive)." Hours later, he followed up with an email to the same attorney asking, "are jokes about terrorism really that serious?"

A Microsoft Word document that investigators believe to be written by Barnett named the FBI and walked back his earlier emails: "I promise I was jk when I said Ima radical ... terrorist," he wrote. "I actually don't actuallyyyy want to ... blow up the Florida Supreme Court!"

The totality of the communications were found to be sufficient for probable cause for his arrest. Barnett's first appearance occurred Wednesday morning. He remains in the Leon County Detention Facility, according to court records

Barnett, who was hired by the Palm Beach public defender's office in 2018, was fired from his post in the summer of 2020.

This week he began hearings that will determine whether he is eligible to practice law in the Sunshine State. His professional standing came into questions after he went on a "rampage on social media" in which he posted statements accusing State Attorney Dave Aronberg "of being a racist, being corrupt, being a white supremacist, and being a criminal," a complaint by the Florida Bar says.

On Tuesday, the first of two hearings before Leon County Judge Kevin Carroll occurred, court records said. The next one remains scheduled for Friday afternoon.

Correction: An earlier version of this story described Barnett as a former Palm Beach public defender. He was a one-time assistant public defender in Palm Beach County.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


The Florida Supreme Court almost certainly deserves some blame for this sad state of affairs. If this reportage is accurate, the Florida Supreme Court openly admitted that it encourages illegal and unconstitutional retaliation against attorneys for “communications and/or filings” that “disparaged and/or impugned” any “legal and law enforcement organizations.”

Judges who retaliate (or encourage retaliation) against attorneys on such grounds definitely need to review some U.S. Supreme Court decisions applying the U.S. Constitution. Take, for example, a SCOTUS decision that is famous even among people with no formal legal training, i.e., New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964). In both parts of that decision, justices strongly emphasized the need to cease pernicious judicial practices that “reflect the obsolete doctrine that the governed must not criticize their governors.” Id. at 272; accord at 301 (Black, Douglas, JJ., concurring). Both the majority and concurring justices emphasized that “[t]he protection of the public requires not merely discussion, but information” and [t]he interest of the public here outweighs the interest” of “any” offended “individual.” Id.

The concurring justices were especially emphatic, and their emphasis pointed us to a crucial case (from 1735) that confirmed these crucial aspects of self-government and the U.S. Constitution. See id. at 301 (Black, Douglas, JJ., concurring)

The American Colonists were not willing, nor should we be, to take the risk that "men who injure and oppress the people under their administration [and] provoke them to cry out and complain" will also be empowered to "make that very complaint the foundation for new oppressions and prosecutions." The Trial of John Peter Zenger, 17 Howell's St. Tr. 675, 721-722 (1735) (argument of counsel to the jury). To impose liability for critical, albeit erroneous or even malicious, comments on official conduct would effectively resurrect "the obsolete doctrine that the governed must not criticize their governors." Cf. Sweeney v. Patterson, 76 U.S. App. D.C. 23, 24, 128 F.2d 457, 458.

Our national experience teaches that repressions breed hate and "that hate menaces stable government." Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 375 (Brandeis, J., concurring). We should be ever mindful of the wise counsel of Chief Justice Hughes:

"Imperative is the need to preserve inviolate the constitutional rights of free speech, free press and free assembly in order to maintain the opportunity for free political discussion, to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes, if desired, may be obtained by peaceful means. Therein lies the security of the Republic, the very foundation of constitutional government." De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353, 365.

The concurring justices and the Zenger case accentuated several crucial points. First, “the obsolete doctrine that the governed must not criticize their governors” was obsolete in 1735. Second, its obsolescence had nothing whatsoever to do with mere “defamation” (as a shocking number and variety of American judges have contended or pretended to purport to justify treating New York Times as irrelevant to repression of speech criticizing judges). Third, “the obsole[sence of the] doctrine that the governed must not criticize their governors” was a fundamental aspect of “the freedom of speech” and “press” that was ratified in 1791. U.S. Const. Amend. I. Fourth, “the obsole[sence of the] doctrine that the governed must not criticize their governors” was a fundamental aspect of the U.S. Constitution when it was ratified in 1787. “[T]he People” created the Constitution to secure “Justice” and “the Blessings of Liberty” to “the People.” Preamble. Fifth, “the obsole[sence of the] doctrine that the governed must not criticize their governors” was a fundamental aspect of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Judges and attorneys purporting to have the power to punish lawyers for criticizing judges or government attorneys should just read the Declaration. It consisted almost entirely of (primarily) lawyers harshly criticizing government officials (Parliament, judges and prosecutors). See Declaration of Independence ¶¶1-3, 5-7, 10-12, 15, 17, 20-24, 30. See, esp. id. ¶10 (“obstructed the Administration of Justice”); ¶17 (“mock Trial”); id. ¶20 (“depriving” people of “Trial by Jury”); id. ¶21 (people being “tried for pretended Offences”).

Posted by: Jack Jordan | Apr 1, 2023 12:22:56 PM

Post a comment