Federal judge rules that Kentucky can restrict speech of attorneys
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky: The Kentucky Supreme Court has set forth some regulations on what attorneys in the state are allowed to say. On April 12, U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves ruled that the speech restrictions are constitutional.
The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Kentucky attorney John M. Berry.
In 2007, at the request of Paul Gudgel, the retired chief judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, the Kentucky Bar Association -- the agency charged by the state's supreme court with enforcing its attorney conduct regulations -- began a 15-month investigation of Berry for allegedly violating the regulations when he sent letters to members of Kentucky’s Legislative Ethics Commission after the commission dismissed a complaint against a prominent state senator involving lobbyists and campaign money. In Berry's letter to the Legislative Ethics Commission, he said that the commission had failed in its duty. The prominent state senator, David William, gave copies of Berry's letter to reporters.
The rule to which Berry objected says that attorneys are forbidden to make statements that they know "to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity." The rationale for the rule is to maintain the public's confidence in the judiciary.
According to federal judge Reeves, the Kentucky Supreme Court's regulations on attorney speech are legally permissible because "Although the rule extends to some constitutionally protected speech — namely, reckless true statements — it does not reach a substantial number of impermissible applications....On its face, the rule does not bar honest, informed criticism. It merely requires lawyers to speak with greater care and civility than is the norm in political debate."