$1,200 Fine for Lawyer Who Flamed Judge in Blog Post

Sean Conway, free speech advocateState bar authorities in Florida have fined trial lawyer Sean Conway $1,200 for criticizing judge Ft. Lauderdale Judge Cheryl Aleman on a blog. Among other remarks, Conway called the judge an "evil, unfair witch." (Incidentally, the judge herself was sanctioned by a state panel for her "arrogant, discourteous and impatient" manner, according to The New York Times.)

The Florida Supreme Court recently upheld the decision to fine Conway. The judges didn't issue an opinion in the case and Conway had consented to the order.

Just as consumers can now air gripes on blogs, doctors, lawyers, bankers and other professionals can use the Web to expose matters that many businesses would prefer remain quiet," wrote blogger Wendy Davis of The Daily Online Examiner.

"What's more, professionals -- like everyone else -- have a fundamental free speech right to express themselves. It might be too late for Florida officials to revisit the Conway matter, but hopefully the courts will recognize that other bloggers have a free speech right to challenge judges, corporations and adversaries on the Web," she wrote.

Conway is hardly the only lawyer to have taken to online social media like Facebook, Twitter and blogs, but as officers of the court they face special risks. Their freedom to gripe is limited by codes of conduct.

“When you become an officer of the court, you lose the full ability to criticize the court,” said Michael Downey, who teaches legal ethics at the Washington University law school.

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