Lawyers may have to become better cheerleaders for the system if a newly proposed Utah State Bar policy passes that could sanction lawyers for criticizing the justice system.---
The Utah State Bar will be accepting public comment until June 14th regarding a proposed rule on attorney conduct that “Prohibits knowingly making a false statement about the judicial system. Encourages lawyers to defend the judicial system.”
The rule is still in the draft stages but it’s already worried attorneys like Mike Martinez, who says it would sanction lawyers for using hyperbole to make a point. For Martinez this is a concern since he and other lawyers have expressed a lot of concern about aspects of the justice system, both to clients and the media.
Martinez in a recent cover story made the argument the courts were revenue generators and not administrators of justice. These types of comments he worries could get attorneys in trouble for simply speaking their mind. He also believes the rule has come about now as a result of critical attention given to justice courts in the media. “I don’t think [the rule] is constitutional,” Martinez says. “And the fact that they even raised it seems like such a knee jerk reaction.”
Richard Schwermer with the Utah Administrative Office of the Courts, says the issue has been developing for several years now and came out of a discussion about misleading claims made in lawyer's advertisements, where attorneys made broad sweeping criticisms of the courts as part of their sales pitch.
“There was a couple of ads on the radio that said something like ‘Dads, if you’re in a divorce you need to know the system is stacked against you. We’ll level the playing field for you,’” Schwermer says, paraphrasing the ads. The Utah State Bar's desire to better regulate attorney advertising claims thus helped get momentum behind the proposed rule.
“[The rule] came from people’s perception of these clearly untrue advertisements,” he says.
Whether it’s excessively broad or not Schwermer says is a matter to be decided as the process continues, noting that the Utah Supreme Court has not yet weighed in on the subject.