Thursday, January 24, 2013

1st Amendment prevails on lawyer complaints

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 9:39 AM

In a brief opinion today, the Arkansas Supreme Court modified the rules governing lawyer conduct to explicitly allow complainants to discuss misconduct complaints they've filed against lawyers.

This is the final — and properly inevitable — conclusion of Mara Leveritt'sprotest of the confidentiality rule when she complained about conduct of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel in the West Memphis Three case. The complaint itself was dismissed, but it gave rise to the question of whether complainants could talk about their actions. Leveritt sued over the confidentiality rule and the Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct settled the suit by agreeing to ask the Supreme Court to change the rule, which it has now done.

Confidentiality continues to exist for all others in the investigative process until it reaches the probable cause stage. A similar confidentiality rule remains in place on complaints filed about public officials with the state Ethics Commission. I and others have routinely ignored it, believing it an unconstitutional prohibition. As yet, the commission hasn't asked the legislature to make the law comport with the 1st Amendment (or tried to punish scofflaws). The legislature is too busy worrying about the 2nd to fix this affront to the 1st.

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