TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court muzzled a pair of "pit bull" lawyers yesterday.
The seven justices unanimously decided a television commercial featuring the image of a pit bull wearing a spiked collar and telephone number ending in PIT-BULL demeans the legal profession and misleads the public.
They reprimanded Fort Lauderdale lawyers John Pape and Marc Chandler and ordered them to attend a Florida Bar workshop on advertising.
Chief Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in Florida Bar v. Pape that the high court cannot condone an ad implying lawyers will "get results through combative and vicious tactics that will maim, scar or harm the opposing party."
She wrote that pit bulls are known for their savage behavior, cited several reports of people being killed by the animals and noted that some local governments have passed laws banning the breed.
Chandler said he and his partner were withholding comment until they had a chance to review the opinion.
A bar referee earlier had found that the ad did not violate rules of professional conduct on grounds that the pit bull logo and telephone number describe the lawyers' personal characteristics rather than the quality of their service. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed and rejected the referee's recommendation to clear the lawyers.
"Were we to approve the referee's finding, images of sharks, wolves, crocodiles and piranhas could follow," Pariente wrote.
The high court, again disagreeing with the referee, also found the commercial was not protected free speech under the First Amendment. Pariente cited U.S. Supreme Court rulings that allow states to prohibit lawyer advertising that is not factual or contains information that cannot be verified.
"The 'pit bull' commercial produced by the attorneys in this case contains no indication that they specialize in either dog bite cases generally or in litigation arising from attacks by pit bulls specifically," Pariente wrote.
"Instead, the image and words 'pit bull' are intended to convey an image about the nature of the lawyers' litigation tactics."