Two Bar disciplinary rules challenged in federal court

first_img Two Bar disciplinary rules challenged in federal court Gary Blankenship Senior Editor An Orlando attorney has asked a federal court to declare unconstitutional two Florida Bar rules, claiming they violate lawyers’ rights to free speech.Steven G. Mason, who is represented by fellow Orlando lawyer Jerome Hennigan, said the action is needed because he faces a Bar grievance investigation for violating Rules 4-8.2(a) and 4-8.4(d). He said those rules violate the First, Fifth, and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.The Bar has responded by filing a motion to dismiss Mason’s suit.The case stems from two different trials in which Mason was involved earlier this year and comments he made in two different Orlando Sentinel stories.In one case, he represented the Democratic Party which was opposing a call for a special mayoral election in Orlando. After a local judge ruled the election should proceed, Mason was quoted as saying he would seek an appeal and “It’s an illegal election. . . . We’ll find some judges on the appellate court who aren’t afraid of the political heat and we’re going to win this thing.”The other case involved a jury ruling against his client in a racketeering case, and Mason was quoted as saying, “Unfortunately, this jury got absolutely buffaloed. They got snookered, beyond snookered.. . . I would like to see their faces when they find out another jury in this courthouse found these people not guilty of every single charge based on the exact same facts.”Rule 4-8.2(a) prohibits lawyers from making false statements or statements made with a reckless disregard on whether they are true or false, about the parties in a cases, including judges and jurors. Rule 4-8.4 bars conduct by a lawyer that is prejudicial to the administration of justice “including to knowingly, or through callous indifference, disparage, humiliate, or discriminate against litigants, jurors, witnesses, court personnel, or other lawyers on any basis. . . ”Rule 4-8.2(a), Mason’s suit says, is “vague and far too broad and thus overbroad in violation of the First Amendment. The rule prevents comments and criticism concerning any official, judges, etc. ( e.g. a ‘public legal officer’) and directly impinges upon free speech including unabashed discussions and frank opinions of lawyers either in a private or public forum. Likewise, Rule 4-8.4(d) impinges upon free speech because it prohibits an attorney from advocating or offering comments on any subject that can be characterized as a violation of the terms within the rule.. . . “Based upon its broad terms, the rule is vague and overbroad and, hence, violates the First, Fifth and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution.”Tallahassee attorneys Barry Richard and Laureen E. Galeoto, who prepared the Bar’s motion to dismiss Mason’s case, noted that no conclusion had been reached in the disciplinary case and that Mason did not, in his suit, deny making the statements.“Mason cannot meet the high threshold required by the U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence to establish vagueness and over breadth,” the motion said. “In fact, as discussed herein, the ample law interpreting and applying the rules at issue, and comparable rules from other jurisdictions, have clearly placed Mason on notice of the proscribed conduct.”The motion argued that the Florida Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court, and various courts around the country have held in similar cases that such language is neither vague nor overbroad and is easily understood given the traditions of the practice of law. Those rulings also held that unwarranted derogatory statements about participants in the legal system are not protected by the First Amendment.“Mason. . . can, with the exercise of ordinary common sense, sufficiently understand and comply with Rules 4-8.4(d) and 4-8.2(a),” the motion said.Mason filed his case in the U. S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. It is case no. 6:05-CV-627-ORL-28. June 15, 2005 Senior Editor Regular News Two Bar disciplinary rules challenged in federal courtlast_img

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