Renowned Activist Calls on Congress to End Power of States to Punish Lawyers for Criticizing Judges

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Attorney Thomas N. Todd, an accomplished civil rights activist, widely known for his dynamic oratorical skills as TNT, has personally called on House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich) to move towards federalizing the regulation of speech among lawyers. According to Todd, the reality of 50 different states providing "various interpretations of the federal standard" for a lawyer's free speech is a problem that "cries out for a solution which is one that is uniform".

Attorney Thomas N. Todd, an accomplished civil rights activist, widely known for his dynamic oratorical skills as TNT, has personally called on House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich) to move towards federalizing the regulation of speech among lawyers. In a prerecorded interview, Todd vividly describes the difficulties lawyers face in zealously advocating for clients without running "afoul of what (their) judge may personally feel or think". Todd notes the predicament "is a problem which I talked about in the deep South, (and) a problem which lawyers grapple with every day now, and especially in this complicated era in 2007".    

The complications Todd references relate to litigating at a time when individual rights are decreasing almost as fast as governmental police powers are expanding. He was invited to address the subject at a national judicial reform conference to be hosted on Saturday, August 11, 2007 at Rice University in Houston, Texas by National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project, Inc. (NJCDLP). NJCDLP is a nonprofit legal reform organization combating abuses of the American legal system that are facilitated by judicial misconduct. At the group's upcoming free conference which poses a rhetorical question with its name "Silencing of the Lambs?", participants will consider whether average Americans truly have a say about the quality of justice dispensed by American courts.

Todd's presentation for the NJCDLP conference was videotaped because of a scheduling conflict that precludes his travel from Chicago, Illinois to the Houston event. Interviewing him on camera is NJCDLP Executive Director, Zena D. Crenshaw. She questions Todd as to whether strict restraints on what lawyers can say to and about judges negatively impact fair trials and effective legal representation. A central focus of their discussion is Matter of Wilkins, a 2002 decision by the Indiana Supreme Court to discipline a lawyer for suggesting certain judges twisted the facts and law of a case to justify a desired result.

According to Todd, the reality of 50 different states providing "various interpretations of the federal standard" for a lawyer's free speech is a problem that "cries out for a solution which is one that is uniform". He projects that in some communities, lawyers are likely unwilling to accept cases that may place them in "bad standing with the judiciary". This "chilling effect" on a right as fundamental and critical as free speech, particularly troubles Todd when lawyers are called in 2007 to represent "very, very unpopular clients, just as they did in the South". He cites alleged enemy combatants and illegal immigrants as clients that may in one state more than another, require lawyers to push the bounds of acceptable advocacy.

In an approximately 30 minute, explosive interview, Todd calls for a complete overhaul of professional disciplinary rules purporting to preserve the sanctity of America's judiciary. He remarks essentially that lawyers should not be curtailed in making legitimate arguments for serious clients when television producers have t.v. judges doing whatever is necessary to entertain and make money. Noting the "consistent" concern about equity and justice of Chairman John Conyers, Todd envisions that relevant hearings before the House Judiciary Committee may lead to a "national (lawyers') commission with one standard" for free speech.

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