Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Last Reminder: if you currently get this blog's updates by e-mail, you need to change "carrier"; here's how to do it

Hopefully, by now you don't need this last reminder, but just in case...

In case you have missed the previous posts on this, you should know that Google has announced changes that will affect your ability to get updates by e-mail after July 1 (in two days). So if you currently get your blog stories by e-mail, this message is for you.  

I already posted about this a few days ago and what follows is essentially the same message, including information on how to sign up for updates by e-mail from different websites.  If you already signed up with one of the new services, whatever services you picked should be working already and you do not have read any further.  

So, the bad news is that Google will terminate the system they use now to send updates by e-mail.  The good news is that there are other options you can use to re-subscribe so you don't miss the blog's content.  

Please take a minute to select a new e-mail delivery service so you don't risk missing content.  It really takes only a few minutes.  I explain how to do it in detail below.  Feel free to contact me by e-mail if you need more information.

As you know, there are two main ways in which readers can get updates when I post new stories.  One is to add the blog to a “news aggregator” such as “Feedly” which is the one I use myself to collect the stories from all the blogs I follow.  The changes announced by Google will NOT affect the use of an aggregator.

The other way to keep up with the new stories is to subscribe by email and that is the system Google is going to eliminate in two days.

So, if you want to continue receiving your updates by e-mail, you will need to sign up using a different service, and below I will describe two options in detail.  

The first option is Blogtrottr.  This is the easiest to set up BUT when you get the e-mail message with the blog stories, there will be a big ad at the top and another at the bottom.  I don't like ads, so this is not my preferred way to subscribe.  If you don't mind the ads, then feel free to sign up for the updates this way.  If you don't want ads, I recommend a service called Follow it.  It has ads but they appear at the bottom of the message and are not intrusive.

I also prefer Follow-it because you can set it up as a news aggregator just like Feedly.  So it is both an email subscription service and a news aggregator in one.  Here is what you need to do to sign up.  It only takes a few minutes but there are a few steps.  (I will also explain how to set up Blogtrottr below).

To sign up for email update through Follow it, here is what you need to do:

Go to https://follow.it/intro where you will see this page:

Click on "No, I am a reader..."  This will take you to this page:

Here, type in his blog's address (https://bernabepr.blogspot.com/) in the blank (as shown) and hit Go.  This will bring you to this page:

These are the different options on how to follow the blog.  If you want only one message per day with all the stories published the previous day, choose the first box (maroon) that says "Newspaper" by email.  If you want to use Follow it as a news aggregator, click on the purple box that says "News page."  You can sign up for more than one option.

Once you pick your options click on Follow it, and this will bring you to another page with more options

As you can see, these are optional, so you can decide what to do there.  I did not select any of these.  

Once you are done with all this, you will get a message by email asking you to confirm.  Make sure you do so because otherwise you will not be signed up and won't get the email updates.  If you don't get the message right away, make sure you check your junk or spam folder just in case.

The other option is easier to set up, but, as I said before, the e-mail messages you will get will have ads.  If you don't mind that, here is what you need to do: 

Go to Blogtrottr.com , where you will see this page 

Once there, enter the URL for this blog (https://bernabepr.blogspot.com/) in the first blank on the left (where you see "http://").

Then enter your email address in the blank in the middle.

Then select how you want the updates to be delivered by clicking on the drop down menu on the left, where it says "realtime".  Realtime means you will get a message by email the moment I post something.  This means you will get multiple messages if I publish more than one story on any given day.  Click on the down arrow to see the other options.  If you want only one message per day (if there is new content) pick the daily digest option.

Once you have filled out these blanks, click on "Feed me".  That will take you to this page:

Pick one of the two options (I picked the one that says Feed Type: RSS) and you will then get a message by email asking you to confirm your subscription.  Check your junk or spam folder if you don't see it right away and make sure you follow the instructions to confirm.  You won't get the updates unless you do so.

I hope this message helps you figure out how to re-subscribe so you continue to get the email updates you are used to.  There may be other options out there that I am not aware of too.  These two are the two I know of.  I tried them both and they work well.  I prefer Follow it for the reasons stated above but they both work.  

Please let me know by email or by leaving a comment here if I can help you make the transition.  

Monday, June 28, 2021

New York Court imposes interim suspension on Rudy Giuliani

 As I am sure you know by now, last week the First Judicial Department of the Courts in New York imposed an interim suspension on Rudy Giuliani for alleged violations of Rule 3.3(a), 4.1, and 8.4(c), all of which deal with dishonesty and makes false statements having found uncontroverted evidence that Giuliani communicated "demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer."  The court concluded that Giuliani's conduct warranted an interim suspension because the conduct "immediately threatens the public interest."  

Giuliani argued, first, that the investigation into his conduct violates his First Amendment right of free speech, and, second, that even if his statements were false, he did not make the statements knowing they were false when he made them.  The court rejected both arguments.  

Even though the court did not hold a hearing, the parties had the chance to file briefs to support their positions.  The court found that the disciplinary counsel met its burden to prove that Giuliani made false and misleading factual statements and then commented on whether Giuliani's argument demonstrated that there is some legitimate dispute about whether the statement is false or whether the statement was made by him without knowledge it was false.  The court concluded he did not. 

Conclusory or vague arguments will not create a controverted issue as to whether there has been misconduct. Consequently, once the AGC has established its prima facie case, respondent’s references to affidavits he has not provided, or sources of information he has not disclosed or other nebulous unspecified information, will not prevent the Court from concluding that misconduct has occurred

Evidently, Giuliani's "defense" followed the same tactics he used when making his claims of voter fraud.  He made assertions but provided no proof or credible evidence to support them.  Was he trying to prove that his original lies were not lies, by using more lies to "prove" it?  Who knows?   As the court explains,

In opposition to this motion, respondent refers to affidavits he has not provided. He also relies on a “confidential informant”. We do not understand, nor does respondent explain why, as a private attorney seemingly unconnected to law enforcement he would have access to a “confidential informant” that we cannot also have access to. At yet another point respondent claims he relies on a Trump attorney who chooses not to be identified. Respondent also refers to hundreds of witnesses, experts, and investigative reports, none of which have been provided or identified and an Excel spreadsheet, also not provided, purportedly listing the names of thousands of deceased voters who allegedly cast ballots in Michigan. [citations omitted.]

I think the allegations against Giuliani are supported by the alleged facts. In particular, I think there is enough proof to impose discipline for his conduct before tribunals and legislative bodies.  That is, proof that he engaged in frivolous litigation and that he engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.  

Having said that, let's talk about this "interim suspension" business.  Notice that the decision of the court is not to discipline Giuliani, but to prevent Giuliani from practicing law temporarily while the court decides whether to prevent him from practicing law permanently.  That's what an interim suspension means.  

This type of interim suspension is always a possibility; but it is rarely used for the type of conduct involved in this case.  More often it is used as a means to prevent harm (often imminent harm) to clients.

Knowing this, the court justified the interim suspension by claiming that Giuliani's conduct poses a risk to the public; the implication being that the public needs protection from Giuliani's lies.  Is that convincing?   Citing the “risk that respondent will continue to engage in future misconduct while this disciplinary proceeding is pending,” here is how the court justified it:

The hallmark of our democracy is predicated on free and fair elections. False statements intended to foment a loss of confidence in our elections and resulting loss of confidence in government generally damage the proper functioning of a free society. When those false statements are made by an attorney, it also erodes the public’s confidence in the integrity of attorneys admitted to our bar and damages the profession’s role as a crucial source of reliable information. It tarnishes the reputation of the entire legal profession and its mandate to act as a trusted and essential part of the machinery of justice. [Citations omitted.]

Is this convincing?  Consider this excerpt from an Op-ed in The Washington Post:

A New York appellate court has temporarily suspended former mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s law license, writing that he had made “demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large.” Just as lawyers who participated in the Watergate scandal were held to account, so too should former president Donald Trump’s lawyers pay a price if they engaged in illegal or unethical conduct. As this case continues, however, the disciplinary agency and courts should be careful not to chill lawyers’ political speech.

As the case goes forward, courts should think more deeply about the First Amendment question. It is unlikely that the public credits media personalities who are attorneys more than others, or that, when these attorneys are caught in lies, the public sees it as a reflection on the entire legal profession. It seems likely, for instance, that the harm from Giuliani’s lies resulted from his proximity to the former president rather than his status as a lawyer.

Lawyers have the right as private citizens to engage in political debate. This includes a right to lie about the government — not because lies are desirable, but because it is too dangerous to give the state the power to determine which statements are true or false when it comes to political speech. Robust political debate would be chilled because people would fear misspeaking. Efforts to expose government wrongdoing would be abandoned out of concern about retribution.

You should read the full opinion suspending Giuliani here.

Obviously, the opinion has gotten a lot of press coverage.  Here are some links: New York Times, Law & Crime, Courthouse News Service, Politico, NPR, Above the Law, The Guardian, Law & Crime (again), ABA Journal, and The Legal Profession Blog.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

South Carolina lawyers beware: anything you say can and will be used against you; Court imposes discipline because it found certain private speech offensive

I know that the big news item of the week was Rudy Giuliani’s getting an interim suspension, and I will comment on that tomorrow, but I want to start the week with a comment on an opinion from South Carolina which did not get any press but which I think is more interesting (and problematic.)

In this case, called In the Matter of Traywick, the Court accepted an agreement between the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) and a lawyer and suspended the lawyer from practice for six months. The case is important because the conduct upon which the disciplinary action was based was Constitutionally protected speech.  The Court did not address the First Amendment issue, however, because the lawyer did not raise it.  It is not clear why that was the case, but the court should have examined the issue anyway.  

There are so many things wrong with the opinion it is difficult to decide where to start, but since I am getting ahead of myself, let’s just start at the beginning.  

As the court explains it, beginning in June 2020, the ODC received complaints from forty-six separate individuals regarding statements that the lawyer made on his personal Facebook page.  Let's repeat that last point:  his personal Facebook page. The ODC identified twelve statements on the lawyer’s Facebook page that the court found problematic.  Yet, the opinion only cites two of them, which makes it impossible for us to evaluate whether the court's evaluation of the basis of the complaint is actually justified.

But I guess the point of only citing two of the statements is to suggest that those two statements, in and of themselves, justified discipline.  I guess the court did not feel the need to look at the other ten statements because those two were enough.  

Here is the problem.  Both statements were made in the lawyer’s personal page, both were statements of opinion and neither was related to the practice of law.  And, more importantly, even though offensive, both were protected speech under the Constitution.  The court seems to suggest that the statements constituted “incitement” but cites no proof that the statements were either directed at anyone in particular, nor had any actual effect on anyone’s conduct as a result.  Any way you look at it, the court simply imposed discipline because someone thought the content of what the lawyer said was offensive.  And that is precisely what the Constitution says the state can't do.

Yes, the lawyer’s expressions were offensive, but if the First Amendment stands for something, it stands for the principle that the state can’t impose sanctions simply because someone finds the speech offensive.  The fact that 46 people complained that the speech was offensive is irrelevant.  It may as well have been 460 people.  The result should have been the same.  Shame on the lawyer for saying what he said, but the state can’t take his license away for expressing himself unless the state can justify it without violating the lawyer’s rights under the First Amendment.

I find it laughable that the court says in the opinion that it considered the case being “mindful of [the lawyer’s] right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”  If the court had been mindful, it would have made an independent examination of the issue in order to make sure that the state's attempt to impose discipline did not violate the lawyer's rights.  And, I suggest to you, the state would have had a very difficult time supporting its position.

Ultimately, the court based its conclusion on the fact that apparently South Carolina still has a rule that allows the state to impose discipline for conduct that “brings the legal profession into disrepute” which is a standard that has been abandoned by most jurisdictions precisely because it is vague, difficult to justify and probably unconstitutional when used to regulate speech, as in this case.

Now, why do I think this obscure case is important?   

One reason it is important is that it is another example of why one of the arguments we keep hearing (and that I wish people would stop saying) in relation to Model Rule 8.4(g) is problematic.  The argument is that we don’t need to worry about Rule 8.4(g) because the rules are “rules of reason” and regulators and courts will not interpret them to discipline protected speech.  Really?  How many examples do we need of regulators imposing discipline for protected speech outside the practice of law to realize that if they can get away with it when there is no rule that justifies it, they will definitely try to get away with it when they have a rule that appears to justify it?

The lawyer's expressions in the South Carolina case would not have violated any version of 8.4(g) that I am aware of, and, yet, the court feels perfectly comfortable imposing discipline because the speech was offensive.  That worries me. 

Another reason the case is important is that it does not seem to be based on an allegation of a violation of any specific rule of professional conduct.  The type of general allegation that certain conduct violates "the sprit" of the rules or "the oath" would not be sufficient to support a claim for discipline in Illinois, where I live.  I am not sure what the state of the law is in other states, though.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Podcast with Arizona Supreme Court Justice on the regulatory changes adopted in Arizona

Last August, Arizona became the first state to eliminate the ban on non-lawyer ownership of law firms.  See here, here and here.  This significant change in the state's regulatory structure was suggested by a task force chaired by Arizona Supreme Court Vice Chief Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer.

In a recent podcast Justice Timmer discusses why the task force recommended such sweeping changes, why the court adopted them, the status of their implementation, and the implications for access to justice. You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the play button below or by going here.

Monday, June 14, 2021

New York Bar Association and Connecticut approve their own versions of Model Rule 8.4(g)

Back in April, I reported that the New York State Bar Association Committee on Standards of Attorney Conduct (“COSAC”) presented a proposed version of Rule 8.4(g) which I thought was much better than the Model Rule originally adopted by the ABA.  See here.

Now, I am reporting that a few days ago, the New York State Bar Association House of Delegates officially voted to adopt the proposed version of Rule 8.4(g).  

In addition, just a day apart, Connecitcut also adopted a version of the rule, originally proposed by the Connecticut Bar Association.  

Connecticut’s version of the rule is more similar to the Model Rule and includes a comment which explains that discrimination “...includes harmful verbal or physical conduct directed at an individual or individuals that manifests bias or prejudice on the basis of one or more of the protected categories.” 

This is a terrible way to describe the type of speech the rule is meant to regulate since it makes no distinction between protected and unprotected speech.  Were it all the comment said, the rule would likely not survive a Constitutional attack, much like the rule in Pennsylvania. See here, here and here.

Fortunately, the drafters of the rule added a statement in the comment that says that the rule is not intended to interfere with conduct protected by the First Amendment.  Hopefully, this will result in the correct interpretation and application of the rule.  

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Texas State Bar is investigating the state's Attorney General for filing frivolous lawsuit in attempt to attack the result of the presidential election

Last week, the AP reported that the Texas State Bar of Texas is investigating the Attorney General Ken Paxton based on the argument that Paxton's attempt to attack the result of the presidential election was both frivolous and unethical.  Law & Crime has more information here.  The Dallas Morning News has more here.  The ABA Journal has more here.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Recent developments on the law of practicing law remotely

 Over at The Law for Lawyers Today, Karen Rubin has published a short comment on the recent developments on whether it is ethical to practice law remotely.  As she explains, "[i]n New York, the state senate last month unanimously passed a bill that would remove the requirement — dating to 1909 — that New York-licensed lawyers residing outside New York keep a physical office in the state.  And in Florida, the state supreme court gave final approval to an ethics opinion permitting out-of-state lawyers to carry out their practices remotely from Florida."

You can read the full comment here.