The Virginia State Bar on Tuesday ruled against Richmond attorney Horace Hunter in the state’s first case of its kind involving lawyer blogging and whether it violates attorney advertising rules.
Hunter must add a disclaimer to his blog within 30 days to make clear that it’s advertising, the bar’s disciplinary committee said. Hunter blogs on his law firm’s Web site about cases he’s worked on and other criminal justice issues. The bar issued a formal charge against him in March, alleging that since one purpose of a law firm’s Web site is to market the firm and attract business, any discussion of cases must include a disclaimer “that puts the case results in a context that is not misleading.”
Hunter had argued that the blog is news and commentary, and the bar’s attempt to get him to tack on a disclaimer violates his First Amendment rights.
Hunter received a public admonition, the lowest possible sanction.
Update: The Virginia Court of Appeals held that this discipline violated the First Amendment:
A lawyer did not violate an ethics rule when he wrote about his cases on the Internet without client consent, a three-judge panel said today. The panel overturned a district discipline committee’s finding of misconduct under Rule 1.6, which governs confidentiality of information.
In a decision announced by Portsmouth Circuit Court Judge Kenneth R. Melvin, the panel dismissed the district court committee finding as “contrary to the law” because it violates the First Amendment. Richmond criminal defense lawyer Horace F. Hunter said his descriptions of cases he successfully handled were drawn from the public record, but Virginia State Bar disciplinary officials said Hunter violated his duty of loyalty to his clients.
But the judicial panel upheld the district committee decision that Hunter’s failure to include a website disclaimer warning that others’ case results could vary did violate Rules 7.1(a)(4) and 7.2(a)(3), which cover communications about a lawyer’s services. The panel upheld a public admonition for this violation and ordered Hunter to post a disclaimer within 30 days. Both decisions were unanimous.