I have previously expressed concern over cases of discipline for both lawyers and laypersons criticizing judges. One troubling case is unfolding in Indiana where the Indiana Disciplinary Commission is recommending a one year suspension for Indianapolis attorney and blogger Paul K. Ogden, who criticized a judge in emails and refused to apologize for what he considered an exercise of free speech.
Ogden sent emails to another attorney accusing Hendricks Superior Judge David Coleman of mishandling an estate case. One particular email sent to opposing counsel Steve Harris of Mooresville said that Coleman “should be turned in to the disciplinary commission for how he handled this case.” That email is part of the position of hearing officer Robert W. York who finds that he “cannot stress enough the conclusion that (Ogden) has a profound lack of both insight into his own conduct and lack or respect for those who disagree with him in any way.” The case is disturbing on a number of levels including the commission’s position that Odgen should be punished because he believes he is “superior to the courts and the law” and that his criticism of Coleman was “filled with inaccurate claims and slanderous innuendo.”
Ogden insists that it was his criticism of the disciplinary process that led to the charges:
I have long felt that one of our responsibilities as attorney is to speak out about the need for reform of our legal system. While I have broached many topics for reform in the legal system, many times on this blog, it was not until January of 2011 when I first decided to touch the third rail and publish an article on the disciplinary process. That story included my research that during the last three years when the Disciplinary Commission was headed by Donald Lundberg, 397 of the 400 published disciplinary cases had been against small firm attorneys and sole practitioners. It was just a few months after that story that the relatively new Executive Secretary of the Commission Michael Witte began filing grievances against me which ultimately resulted in the charges that were heard yesterday.
I tend to favor the free speech values in such cases. In the Indiana, I fail to see how emails criticizing judges should be the basis for discipline. This is a matter of professional opinion. What do you think?A highly-respected Indiana attorney, Ted Waggoner, who publishes an informative blog, Lawyers With Troubles, ponders the potential impact of Ogden's case on the free speech rights of the clients represented by attorneys.
If you are not a lawyer, you ought to consider where your rights to speak freely are if the lawyers lose their rights.