First Amendment

Court: Kentucky Bar Can Restrict Attorney Speech

John M. Berry, a lawyer who has had an ongoing free speech battle with the Kentucky Bar Association, lost the latest round today in federal court in Frankfort, Ky.

Represented by the ACLU of Kentucky, Berry brought a legal challenge to a state bar rule that restricts what lawyers can say publicly, in the interest of upholding public confidence in the judiciary. U.S. District Court Judge Danny Reeves found that the rule in question is constitutional, the Associated Press reports, even if it does restrict constitutionally protected speech. His ruling also found that the federal courts have no jurisdiction to overturn state bar association disciplinary actions.

Berry’s First Amendment fight started in 2007. He sent letters to members of Kentucky’s Legislative Ethics Commission, according to the Lexington-Herald Leader, after the commission dismissed a complaint against Kentucky Senate President David William involving the campaign money solicited from lobbyists. The letters stated that the commission failed their duty, and Berry, a former Kentucky state senator, gave copies of the letters (PDF) to reporters.

Paul Gudgel, an ethics commissioner and retired chief judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, filed a complaint against Berry with the Kentucky Bar Association, which is responsible for attorney regulation and discipline. The bar launched a 15-month investigation of Berry and ultimately dismissed Gudgel’s complaint, but sent Berry a warning letter.

The story also inspired a book, Alice vs. Wonderland: A Chilling Tale of the Abuse of Power in the Name of Lawyer’s Ethics, written by legal blogger Stan Billingsley.

Related stories: “Lawyer’s Free-Speech Ethics Challenge Inspires Legal Blogger’s Novel”

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