Monday, January 24, 2011

Judge Prohibits Disbarred Lawyer from Using "J.D." Suffix

U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Gaughan has upheld an Ohio Supreme Court decision prohibiting a disbarred attorney from attaching the "J.D." suffix to his name. The former attorney, Bruce Andrew Brown, argues—and I tend to agree—that this violates his First Amendment and due process rights.

Yes, the state bar associations play an important role in protecting the general public from incompetent and/or unethical lawyers, but the fact of the matter is that Brown is, in fact, a J.D. The Ohio Bar may legally determine whether Brown can practice law, but neither it nor the judiciary can take away the Juris Doctor he earned from Columbia Law School in 1984—no more than a court can revoke a legitimately earned Bachelor of Arts.

Brown's alleged use of the "J.D." to mislead others into believing he is a lawyer may be grounds for some legal action, whether punitive or prospective, but broadly banning an individual from claiming title to a degree he legitimately earned is entirely inappropriate. How we describe ourselves to the rest of the world is a matter of free speech, and the courts generally employ strict scrutiny when analyzing a restriction on free speech. The Supreme Court has also found that commercial speech that is false or misleading is not protected by the First Amendment, but (1) Brown is, in fact, a J.D.; and (2) a blanket restriction prohibiting Brown from using suffixing "J.D." to his name is not narrowly tailored to serve the government's interest, as is required by this test.

I really hope this decision is reversed on appeal.

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