The Rutherford Institute Takes on Florida Bar’s War on Free Speech

The deep state is alive and well in the so called free state of Florida. The Florida Bar has been waging a war against free speech. The Florida Bar has continued its abusive assault on the First Amendment. In this unprecedented assault on political speech the Florida Bar is threatening to suspend an attorney’s license for committing a thought crime. The threat against this attorney’s license has nothing to do with the practice of law. In this case, the crime was engaging in critical speech of an opponent in a partisan Republican primary race for the office of Florida’s 20th Judicial State Attorney, which is the lead prosecutor for several counties in Southwest Florida. That’s right, running for public office in Florida and saying what the State considers to be mean statements can cost you your law license.

Fortunately, the Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of Christopher Crowley, a former member of the 82nd Airborne Division, and Gulf War veteran, who is also a former prosecutor and defense attorney. This former political candidate is being targeted for political speech during his campaign. The Florida State Bar charged Christopher Crowley with defamation of his political opponent, Amira Fox, after Mr. Crowley raised concerns about his political opponent during a combative political campaign in a Republican primary. John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People, stated:

“No matter what their political persuasion might be, every American has a First Amendment right to criticize government programs or policies with which they might disagree,” ……..“Nowhere in the First Amendment does it permit the government to limit speech in order to avoid causing offense or hurting someone’s feelings, protect government officials from criticism, penalize hateful ideas, combat prejudice and intolerance, and the like.”

Prior to this targeting of Mr. Crowley for running an insurgent political campaign, Crowley has had no complaints or ethical issues regarding his law license, and none actually involving the practice of law. Losing a tough political campaign was not enough, this candidate faces bar complaints including the threat of a one year suspension of his license, and had previously paid tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Rutherford joined affiliate attorney Phares Heindl who is co-counsel of record in the case, are providing pro bono services. Based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Counterman v. Colorado, the Rutherford Institute has filed a Motion to Reconsider. Rutherford argued that:

“the previous judge’s analysis violated First Amendment protections of free speech—which are heightened in an election context—by applying an unconstitutional standard which would enable claims through the State Bar to be weaponized to chill speech critical of public officials. In Counterman, the U.S. Supreme Court reined in the government’s power to punish speech it deems distasteful or annoying.”

Specifically, the political speech at issue in this case is that the defendant challenged the integrity of the opposing candidate for State Attorney by questioning conviction rates. The defendant also labeled the candidate as corrupt. Crowley also questioned his opponent’s family connections to a foreign organization, and what role she may have played in having Crowley investigated and arrested over a small campaign donation from a raffle.

According to its website, The Florida Bar mission states:

The Florida Bar is the organization of all lawyers licensed by the Supreme Court of Florida to practice law in the state. The Florida Bar’s core functions are to: Regulate the practice of law in Florida; ensure the highest standards of legal professionalism in Florida; and protect the public by prosecuting unethical attorneys and preventing the unlicensed practice of law.

As can been seen above, the Florida Bar’s mission statement appears to limit its jurisdiction to the practice of law, ethics, and professionalism. Political ideology, political campaigns, and political speech are not supposed to be regulated by the Florida Bar. The Florida Bar is not supposed to be the new Ministry of Truth. If the Florida Bar and the law profession has become this unhinged from basic principles such as free speech, especially political speech, maybe it is time the organization should be disbanded.

It appears unlikely that if the defendant in this case won his campaign that he would be charged with these frivolous allegations. It also appears unlikely that the Florida Bar is unaware of its campaign against the First Amendment. It is unlikely that a rogue attorney is prosecuting this case. This appears directed from the top down. This suggests a deep-rooted corruption in Florida’s legal and political system. Is this political payback? Or just sending a message not to challenge the status quo?

As I have written in the past on this topic, the Florida Supreme Court should not only exonerate Crowley, it should also sanction the Florida Bar for its clear antagonism toward the First Amendment. The Florida Bar is operating under the color of law in this campaign to chill free speech, and essentially bullying, not just licensed attorneys, but also, all licensed professionals in the state. This case isn’t just an embarrassment to the legal profession, it is an embarrassment to the state of Florida. More importantly, it is an embarrassment to the people of Florida.

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