Hi, if you want free updates from my blog, you can enter your email address here.

Lawyer-Bloggers Beware: Don’t Criticize a Judge


Photo by Joe Gratz

Many people think the internet is free from laws and restrictions. That just isn’t the case.

Check out this story from Florida’s Sun-Sentinel. A lawyer blogged about a local judge, calling her an “evil, unfair witch,” among other things. Now the Florida Bar is evaluating five ethics charges against the lawyer-blogger.

What did he do wrong?

In short, the lawyer wasn’t civil.

Even though many people think lawyers are lying, cheating jerks, we’re really not a bad bunch. And our ethics rules are intended to make sure we behave appropriately. If you don’t follow the rules, you can be suspended or even disbarred.

Florida has an ethics rule that says lawyers can’t impugn the integrity or qualifications of a judge. By saying that this judge is “evil” or an “unfair witch,” the lawyer clearly crossed the line.

Free speech?

Of course, the lawyer claims that his blogging was protected under the First Amendment. But was it?

I’m not a First Amendment scholar, but ethics rules like this seem reasonable. Lawyers can still say that judges made decisions they disagree with. And they can criticize judges’ courtroom demeanor. But lawyers can’t make blanket statements accusing judges of being liars or unqualified for the job.

Watch yourself

The moral of the story: be careful. Lawyers have to watch their ethics in court and on the blog. Don’t let your guard down, or your license might be gone.

Get more legal tips

Sign-up below to receive my bi-monthly email newsletter with free legal tips. All fields are required.

See also...


6 Responses to “Lawyer-Bloggers Beware: Don’t Criticize a Judge”

  1. Nick Kasoff - The Thug Report
    December 17th, 2007

    With all due respect for the fine gentlemen of the bar, ethics rules are a joke. Today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on two judges in southern Illinois who were convicted of DUI after causing an accident and engaging in some rather humorous misconduct afterward. The extent of their discipline was, basically, to apologize.

    In another case, a St. Louis attorney used a trust fund for which she was trustee as an investment bank for another of her clients, without any authorization from the beneficiaries. She is now an unnamed co-conspirator in her client’s federal fraud indictment. She recently disclosed that her “investment” in her other client’s projects has caused a loss of 60% of the value of the trust. Yet our state’s ethical panel felt that since she wasn’t charged with a crime, no ethical violation could have occurred.

    Now, you post a story that an attorney faces 5 ethical charges for bad mouthing a judge. And you guys wonder why so many people hate attorneys?

    Nick Kasoff
    The Thug Report

  2. Andrew Flusche
    December 17th, 2007


    Whew! It looks like you had a little steam to blow there. Both of the cases you cite seem like failings of the ethics rules, but no system can be perfect.

    I don’t know about my fellow lawyers, but I’m scared out of my mind that I’m going to commit and ethical violation. That’s enough to keep me in line right there!


  3. Modern Living Room Furniture
    December 19th, 2007

    I also think that some amount of decorum is required when referring to judges. They are after all figures of some authority and import, and as such, should be subject to some protection.

  4. Pocket Handkerchief in Space
    December 19th, 2007

    I have no quibble with what counselor Conway posted on JAABlog. It was within reason, and well within his first amendment rights to do so. Consider that the judge in question, Cheryl Alemán, is now on trial for actions inconsonant with her judicial responsibilities.

    As for the issue that Conway called Alemán an “evil, unfair witch”, he can certainly opt to claim a truth defense on this issue.

  5. California Labor Law
    December 22nd, 2007

    Judges are servants of the people. They’re human and not perfect. They wield tremendous power over their fellow citizens. Their decisions can literally save or destroy lives. Is it surprising that the power can sometimes get to their heads?

    As a practicing trial attorney, I believe people need to stop placing judges on pedestals. I’ve read attorney Conway’s posts about Judge Aleman. Sure he could’ve toned it down a little. But then again, I think he had grounds to be upset.

    Why should we shield judges from criticism, much of which might be deserved? Judges should EARN respect, just like everyone else. Let them earn the respect of their fellow citizens by the demonstrated wisdom and fairness of their decisions, not demand it on the basis of title alone.

    Why should judges be exempted from criticism, especially when it’s deserved?

  6. Andrew Flusche
    December 22nd, 2007

    Interesting comments from you guys.

    Lawyers are officers of the court. Sure they can criticize judges, within reason. But lawyers must also have respect for judges to make the court system function properly.

    Surely we all agree that a lawyer can’t call the judge an “evil, unfair witch” in open court. And we also agree that a lawyer has to keep up standards of behavior even outside the courtroom. I guess the question is how high those standards must be.

Comments are automatically closed on older posts.

  • Legal tips by email

    Sign-up below to get email tips and exclusive discounts on videos, webinars, and future items.

    All fields are required.

  • Receive updates

    By email
    By rss (full feed)
  • About Andrew Flusche

    Lawyer, bicyclist, husband.
    More about me...
    Tumble Log
    View Andrew Flusche's profile on LinkedIn
    Andrew Flusche's Facebook Profile
  • Popular Posts