COLUMBUS, Ohio — A sports agent has sued the Ohio Supreme Court’s seven justices, arguing that a state rule preventing lawyers from running advertisements with client testimonials is unconstitutional.
Bret Adams says the high court’s professional conduct regulation violates his First Amendment rights of free speech, according to the lawsuit filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Columbus.
“When I became a lawyer, I didn’t abrogate my rights of free speech,” Adams said. “The purpose of the lawsuit is not to open the floodgates for misleading and unprofessional advertising. It’s about everyone’s freedom of speech.”
The lawsuit asks Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. to declare unconstitutional the anti-testimonial rule in the high court’s Ohio Code of Professional Responsibility.
Adams wants to run ads featuring former professional and Ohio State football player Chris Spielman and former professional basketball coach George Karl.
Lori Brown, first assistant disciplinary counsel for the Supreme Court, said the regulation is designed to prevent misleading advertising.
She declined to comment on the suit but said a testimonial might mislead people into believing the lawyer always wins cases.
“Lawyers who represent a lot of people will probably have as many satisfied clients as unsatisfied clients,” she said.
Adams’ suit notes that in 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona that Arizona officials could not bar lawyers from advertising. In later cases, the high court upheld lawyers’ advertising rights, the suit says.
“Significantly, the ... court has made it clear that government may no longer justify its regulations of commercial speech ‘by mere speculation or conjecture’ and ‘must demonstrate that the harms it recites are real,’ ” the suit says.
Joel Mirman, Adams’ attorney, said some states allow client testimonials and others don’t. In California, client testimonials must be accompanied with disclaimers noting that lawyers’ success varies, he said.