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Indiana high court scolds attorneys over TV commercials

By The Associated Press
08.12.03

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court has reprimanded two lawyers for running television commercials suggesting insurance companies will settle claims merely because the claimants are represented by them.

The ads authorized in 1999 and 2000 encouraged people who had been injured in car accidents to call the Indianapolis firm Keller & Keller and tell insurance companies "you mean business."

Three ads depicted insurance adjusters asking which firm represented the victims. When the adjuster is told it is Keller & Keller, an alarming metallic sound is heard and the suddenly concerned adjuster says, "Keller & Keller? Let's settle this one."

A fourth commercial had actor Robert Vaughn introducing himself and encouraging accident victims to call the firm because "they go after your rights piece by piece by piece until you get every dollar you deserve."

The state high court said the commercials violated rules of professional conduct for attorneys because they implied clients would get favorable results based solely on the firm's reputation with insurance companies.

"The respondents' advertisements create an impression that the claims they handle are settled, not because of the specific facts or legal circumstances of the claims, but merely by the mention of the name of the respondents' firm to insurance companies," the ruling said.

The high court issued the public reprimand, which is essentially a public scolding, against James Keller and Jack Keller on Aug. 8.

Charles Kidd, an attorney with the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, said his interpretation of the ruling was that such ads should be pulled from the air.

James Keller said he had not read the decision and the firm had no comment, other than, "We respect whatever the Supreme Court has said."

In the disciplinary proceedings, the attorneys contended their ads were protected by the commercial-speech doctrine recognized by federal courts under the First Amendment, and also were shielded by the Indiana Constitution.

But the state justices disagreed, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said the government may ban commercial messages "more likely to deceive the public than to inform it."

They also said the ad campaign, which was purchased from a national marketing firm, had been the subject of litigation in North Carolina.

A federal court there found one of the commercials created "an unjustified expectation" of settlements based on the firm's reputation and insurance industry's fear.


Related

Lawyers' dramatic TV ads don't make cut for federal judge

Court agrees with N.C. State Bar that spots for law firms were misleading, not constitutionally protected commercial speech. 07.25.01

Sports agent sues Ohio high court over lawyer-ad rule

Federal lawsuit claims regulation barring attorneys from using client testimonials in advertisements violates First Amendment. 04.23.04

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

Legal experts give lawyer ads mixed reviews
'Sometimes free speech is not always in the best taste,' says Connecticut law professor. 11.11.02

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