First Amendment

Experts Differ on Rights of Lawyer Who Criticized Judge on Blog

Is a lawyer who calls a judge an “evil, unfair witch” on a blog protected by the First Amendment?

A Daily Business Review story found a difference of opinion.

The lawyer accused in a Florida Bar complaint for making those remarks, Sean Conway, asserts he is protected. He has been accused of violating an ethics rule that bars lawyers from making statements that impugn the integrity of a judge or the judiciary.

Among those who agree is Miami lawyer Rick Ovelmen, who says the “witch” remark is opinion speech that is protected. He maintains the bar can ban only false and reckless statements that meet the standard for libel of public figures.

But the former president of the Miami chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union told the Business Review that ethics rules can limit First Amendment rights as a condition for admission to the bar.

“The practice of law is considered a privilege,” said the ex-ACLU lawyer, Lida Rodriguez-Taseff. “When lawyers choose to be admitted to the practice of law, they do so because they know they have to abide by rules of conduct of the bar.”

Conway says he wrote the blog post in question because Broward County Judge Cheryl Alemán was giving defense lawyers only one week to prepare for trial. The post criticized Alemán’s “ugly, condescending attitude” and questioned her mental stability.

Alemán herself is on the hot seat. The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission has accused her of bullying defense lawyers and violating ethics rules that require judges to be ”patient, dignified, and courteous.”

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