|Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer|
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Dismissal of Case Because of Statements to Press Upheld by Michigan S.Ct.
The following is a list of the publications stemming from plaintiff’s counsel’s September 11, 2001, press release, many of which refer to Bennett’s excluded conviction:The Court saw it as a question of a court's power to police the justice system:
The issue in this case pertains to the extent of a trial court’s authority to govern the conduct of counsel and their clients in court proceedings. Where the Michigan Constitution authorizes us to make rules to govern court proceedings, the authority to enforce those rules inescapably follows. At the heart of preserving an organized polity, we must attend to relevant issues, including concerns over belligerent, antagonistic, or incompetent lawyering. To this end, we affirm the authority of trial courts to impose sanctions appropriate to contain and prevent abuses so as to ensure the orderly operation of justice.The Court was not unaware of the constitutional dimension, but found the lower court's order a "narrow and necessary limitation aimed at protecting potential jurors from prejudice," not a violation of the First Amendment. A contention vigorously disagreed with by the three dissenters. Given this issue, the U.S. Supreme Court may very well be asked to weigh in.
Regardless of whether it is or not, it is an important opinion for anyone involved in a case that is being "tried in the press" or for lawyers reflecting on how we should behave. I admit a visceral opposition to such conduct, feeling strongly that lawsuits should be tried in the court room not the press. That view was re-enforced after a videotape that was the centerpiece of several harassment lawsuits I was defending was first hyped, then played on the local tv news during sweeps week, a period known more for sensationalism than serious journalism.
It is also an important case as a reminder of how lawyers are viewed and for reflection on how it is that we carry out our role in the justice system. Unfortunately, the conduct of counsel on neither side escapes unscathed in the opinions.