Monday, August 15, 2016

Another comment on the newly adopted amendment to Model Rule 8.4

A few days ago I wrote about my concern that the newly adopted amendment to Model Rule 8.4 can be used to impose sanctions for what is otherwise protected speech under the Constitution.  You can read my comment here.

Today I saw a column in the Wasington Post by Professor Eugene Volokh (UCLA) in which he expands on the same theme.  You can read the full column here, but here are some of the key points:
"... say that some lawyers put on a Continuing Legal Education event that included a debate on same-sex marriage, or on whether there should be limits on immigration from Muslim countries, or on whether people should be allowed to use the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity rather than their biological sex. In the process, unsurprisingly, the debater on one side said something that was critical of gays, Muslims or transgender people. If the rule is adopted, the debater could well be disciplined by the state bar . . ."

. . . .

"Or say that you’re at a lawyer social activity, such as a local bar dinner, and say that you get into a discussion with people around the table about such matters — Islam, evangelical Christianity, black-on-black crime, illegal immigration, differences between the sexes, same-sex marriage, restrictions on the use of bathrooms, the alleged misdeeds of the 1 percent, the cultural causes of poverty in many households, and so on. One of the people is offended and files a bar complaint.

Again, you’ve engaged in “verbal . . . conduct” that the bar may see as “manifest[ing] bias or prejudice” and thus as “harmful.” This was at a “social activit[y] in connection with the practice of law.” The state bar, if it adopts this rule, might thus discipline you for your “harassment.” And, of course, the speech restrictions are overtly viewpoint-based: If you express pro-equality viewpoints, you’re fine; if you express the contrary viewpoints, you’re risking disciplinary action.

. . . .

Many people pointed out possible problems with this proposed rule — yet the ABA adopted it with only minor changes that do nothing to limit the rule’s effect on speech. My inference is that the ABA wants to do exactly what the text calls for: limit lawyers’ expression of viewpoints that it disapproves of. . . .  [S]tate courts and state bars should resist the pressure to adopt [the new rule]."

Thanks to the Legal Ethics Forum for the link.

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