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Justices won't let Fla. lawyers unleash 'pit-bull' ads

By The Associated Press
03.28.06

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A pair of "pit bull" lawyers will remain muzzled after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take their appeal yesterday.

The Court's refusal to hear the case, Pape v. The Florida Bar, left standing a Florida Supreme Court ruling that Marc Chandler and John Pape could no longer use ads featuring the image of a pit bull wearing a spiked collar and spelling out the last seven digits of their telephone number as "PIT-BULL."

The Fort Lauderdale lawyers had argued on appeal that the state justices failed to apply a U.S. Supreme Court standard for commercial speech and ruled "pit bull" was demeaning to the legal profession and justice system without any empirical evidence.

Chandler noted that the U.S. Supreme Court takes only a tiny fraction of the appeals it gets and said that didn't mean the lower court's decision was correct.

Florida Chief Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in the unanimous opinion that the ads implied the lawyers would "get results through combative and vicious tactics that will maim, scar or harm the opposing party." The state justices disagreed with a Florida Bar referee who saw nothing wrong with the ads.

"I'm confident that no member of the public saw our commercial or logo or telephone number and thought we were actually pit bulls or thought we were actually going to maim somebody or attack somebody," Chandler said yesterday.

He pointed out that President Bush once called White House counsel Harriet Miers a "pit bull in size 6 shoes." Bush last year nominated Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court but she withdrew her name in the face of conservative criticism.

"Clearly, he didn't think he was demeaning attorney Miers or demeaning the legal profession," Chandler said. "Demeaning is in the eye of the beholder."

Chandler said he once owned an American Staffordshire terrier, similar to a pit bull, and found the dog to be loving, courageous and loyal. Both breeds also don't back down from a fight, he said.

Pape and Chandler thought those would be traits people would want in a lawyer.

Since the state ruling in November, the law partners have dropped the pit-bull imagery from print ads and have stayed off television. The ban has not harmed their business, Chandler said.

Still, he says he thinks the decision was unfair, saying some lawyers are using images of lions and panthers, both also fearsome animals, without objection. Pariente didn't mention big cats but wrote the justices were afraid "images of sharks, wolves, crocodiles and piranhas could follow" if they allowed the pit-bull ads.

Chandler said pit bulls didn't carry negative connotations "until drug dealers and gang members and other people that are considered bad guys ... made them their dog of choice."


Previous
Fla. justices won't let lawyer ads go to the dogs
High court's unanimous ruling finds that attorneys' pit-bull TV commercial demeans legal profession, misleads public. 11.18.05

Related

N.J. lawyers barred from using some honors in ads

Committee says attorneys should stop advertising their inclusion as 'Super Lawyers' in magazine supplement because designation could be potentially misleading. 07.24.06

New rules require prior OK of Fla. lawyers' TV, radio ads
State high court endorses guidelines requiring attorneys to get Florida Bar approval for advertisements before airing them. 11.05.06

'Heavy Hitters' law firm wins free-speech ruling on ads
But New York state will appeal decision that would allow Alexander & Catalano, personal-injury attorneys, to advertise themselves using the term. 07.25.07

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