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Federal judge backs most La. limits on lawyer ads

By The Associated Press
08.04.09

NEW ORLEANS — Most of the new restrictions on lawyer advertising adopted by the Louisiana Supreme Court are constitutional and can be enforced by the state, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman's ruling says the state can freely regulate ads that employ client testimonials, portray a judge or jury, "promise results" for clients or use mottos that imply a lawyer's ability to "obtain results."

However, Feldman said a new rule limiting attorneys' use of celebrity endorsements violates the First Amendment and can't be enforced by the state. The judge also struck down two rules governing lawyers' Internet ads, which he said don't account for differences between ads on the Web and those on television and other "traditional media."

The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board says the rules scheduled to take effect on Oct. 1 are designed to curb deceptive ads.

"Overall, I think we're pleased with the ruling," said Phillip Wittmann, a lawyer for the board.

A group of lawyers sued to block the rules' enforcement, claiming they impose unconstitutional restrictions on free expression. James Garner, an attorney for New Orleans-based personal injury attorney Morris Bart, says the plaintiffs are likely to appeal Feldman's ruling.

"Speech could be totally truthful and yet prohibited by these rules," Garner said. "That's the unconstitutional aspect of it."

In his ruling, Feldman said he disagreed with the plaintiffs' argument that the state hadn't articulated a "substantial interest" in restricting lawyer ads.

"The state may not by scatter-shot condemn lawyer advertising, but does indeed have a substantial interest in addressing the ethical standards of the profession, as well as in preventing public confusion or deception," he wrote.

The judge also upheld several other new rules, including a rule banning mottos and trade names that imply results.

Plaintiffs in the suits also include attorneys Scott Wolfe and William Gee III, as well as Public Citizen Inc., a national consumer-advocacy group that filed similar suits in New York and Florida.

Wolfe had argued that the new rules would make Internet advertising prohibitively expensive. He said his firm spent $160 for a Google ad campaign that would cost an additional $2,100 if a bar committee had to approve all 12 variations of the Google ads.

Feldman cited Wolfe's "compelling example" in deciding that the new rule imposing filing requirements for Internet ads is unconstitutional.


Previous
La. attorneys ask judge to halt limits on lawyer ads
New rules, scheduled to take effect on Oct. 1, include restrictions on use of mottos, celebrity endorsements, re-enactments and client testimonials. 07.31.09

Related

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

N.J. high court: 'Super Lawyers' ads are protected speech

Justices reverse committee ruling that barred attorneys from being advertised as 'best lawyers in America' or similar superlatives. 12.18.08

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