Yesterday’s Indianapolis Star carried a story about Paul Ogden and the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Commission. It’s a story that should trouble anyone who really cares about the First Amendment, but especially lawyers.
The facts are fairly simple: Ogden represented a client before Hendricks Superior Court Judge David H. Coleman. In a private email, he criticized the Judge, opining that he had a conflict of interest. At the time he wrote the email–and again, I note that this was a private communication–the judge had already been removed from the case for failing to act within an appropriate period of time.
It is unclear how the judge even found out about the email, but he did, and demanded an apology. Ogden refused. ( Paul is one of those people who will stand on principle even when doing so will clearly cost him.) Had he apologized, that would have been the end of it. Since he didn’t–he faces loss of his license to practice law.
Think about that for a minute. A “transgression” that could be cured by a simple apology is nevertheless so serious that the Disciplinary Commission can respond by destroying a lawyer’s ability to make a living. And what is that transgression? “Defaming” a judge by criticizing him in a private email.