Lawyers Have No 1st Amendment Right Regarding Judges

Lawyers do not have a first amendment right when it comes to disrespectful speech about judges, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the unpublished case In re: Kevin Christopher Gleason (12-11433). Attorney Kevin Gleason appealed a sanction from the bankruptcy court suspending him from practice for 60 days for writing in a responsive pleading directed to the judge that “[i]t is sad when a man of your intellectual ability cannot get it right when your own record does not support your half-baked findings.” (Order, p. 3)

Gleason’s insults to the bankruptcy judge came in his response to an order to show cause, and he asserted in his appeal of the suspension that “his First Amendment rights supersede the rules that regulate attorney conduct.” (Id.) Gleason decided to add to the problem by submitting an ex parte communication to the judge in the form of a bottle of wine accompanied by a note, reading “Dear Judge Olson, a Donnybrook ends when someone buys the first drink. May we resolve our issues privately?” (Id.) In his appeal of the suspension, Gleason asserted violations of both his first and fifth amendment rights, as well as an abuse of discretion by the bankruptcy court for the sixty-day suspension.

The Eleventh Circuit panel disposed with Gleason’s claims swiftly, dismissing all of them in under nine pages, and fully affirming the judgment of the district court (which affirmed the suspension issued by the bankruptcy court). Notably, the Eleventh Circuit noted that:

“Gleason has identified no authority supporting his contention that the First Amendment shields from sanctions an attorney who files an inappropriate and unprofessional pleading and then contacts a presiding judge ex parte with an offer to share a bottle of wine and ‘privately’ resolve their dispute.”

(Order, p. 4) The court continued on to note that Gleason’s conduct amounted to “sanctionable professional misconduct,” and that “[i]n ordering sanctions, the court exercised its inherent authority to oversee an attorney practicing before it.” (Id.) Rather than insulting the judge and communicating ex parte, the Eleventh Circuit suggested that Gleason should have availed himself of the ability to appeal the ruling with which he disagreed, which he seems to have figured out with regard to the imposition of sanctions. Unfortunately, Gleason appealed the wrong order.

(photo: Shutterstock: 97777682)

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  • Uzo Akpele

    What led this lawyer to address the judge in this manner? I practice before the immigration court and some of the judges are UNCIVIL to lawyers (of course the respondents do not get any respect at all).
    You could report a judge, but nothing will come of it.

  • JD

    The big issue was probably the ex parte contact. A contrite letter of apology, copied to opposing counsel and without the bottle, would have gone a lot farther.