Legal Speech in Florida

Some time ago, I read a story in the Tampa Bay Times that I found really interesting. A foreclosure lawyer, Mark Stopa, criticized a court for seeming favoritism to banking interests. Stopa wrote in a motion that the court had exhibited a double standard that 'reeked.' He made a point that the dynamic in the court was terribly unfair to his clients, that the court might have an issue with impartiality.

In response to the motion, the Court transmitted Mr. Stopa's motion to the Florida Bar, which in turn, brought a formal complaint for discipline, alleging that he (Stopa) impugned the integrity of the judge. 

What does this mean? Well, lawyers in Florida have some interesting ethics requirements. We of course must live by the law in Florida, but the ethics requirements also provide the Florida Bar an enforcement avenue to discipline attorneys when they break their rules.  The Bar can bring a complaint in court, and can request a formal rebuke, suspension from practice, and/or disbarment. In this case, the Bar maintained that Mr. Stopa's language broke ethics rules prohibiting one to speak in a manner that impugned a court's integrity.

I found this very interesting. I think he made a point that many people feel when finding themselves in court. They are often before privileged and less-than diverse people, who are usually far removed from the modern lives of litigants. I'm not saying all judges lack empathy, but it has been well documented that there is a lack of gender, race, sexual orientation and other abled candidates in the judiciary. (

It seems Mr. Stopa hit a nerve with the Bar when making a claim that people may feel disenfranchised. Now does this impugn the integrity of a court? Perhaps the way it was written, it may have, but it also might have been constitutionally protected free speech as well. I think many lawyers may think twice when criticizing the system, and to me, this is unfortunate. Without caring criticism, how else will things improve?

In the end, Mr. Stopa decided to settle with the Bar's attorney and found himself in court for a 'formal rebuke' and a future psychological evaluation. The reason he didn't litigate the issue? He said it was too expensive to fight in court. That itself tells you about how lawyers look at the system. 

I think it would have been interesting to litigate this question in court. Was Mr. Stopa really impugning the integrity here? What kind of standard really is 'impugning integrity?' Where is the line? Should there be one? What is the line here with constitutional rights to free speech?  

I understand Mr. Stopa's decision to move forward and let the incident go, but I also believe that there was a great opportunity here to litigate with the Bar and challenge the status quo, to be introspective, to think about the future. I'll leave the blog today with the link to the story on the Tampa Bay Times site:

Elections Cont'd

I wanted to spend a post this week writing on those attempting to catch the front-runners for the major-party presidential nominations. Most of us believe that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the presumptive nominees, but members of the media recently are pointing to developments that muddy the water a bit. Perhaps this is to spice up the narrative of the election ;), but I'll leave that up to you to decide. I just wanted to write a bit on the proposed immigration policy of those challenging the front-runners.

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has wide support for his arguments that the political process is rigged by large donors and interests. The position resonates with Americans, because we see that things seem distant and unaccountable in Washington, that something much bigger than us controls lawmakers. While this may be true, it is the identification of a problem from Sanders rather than a solution.

I will say though that he does have an articulated policy on immigration. Upon taking office, he would bypass the lawmaking process in Congress and issue an Executive Order to create a path for those living without documentation in the US to earn citizenship. It is unclear how far his executive authority on this front could reach, but it would potentially change the lives of many families currently in the United States. I would just caution here that he may have power to determine the manner of immigration enforcement, only Congress can change the actual law on immigration.

The Republican challenger to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, is taking a completely opposite tack. His position would deport all those living in the United States without documentation, triple border security, and create a wall to keep more immigrants from entering the country without documentation. It is unclear how this policy would assist Mr. Cruz in the general election, but it seems that a great deal of Republican voters respond to this rhetoric. 

I'm not sure at this point whether the Republican party will attempt a coup at their convention and perhaps nominate another candidate (Paul Ryan perhaps?) to run against the Democratic nominee. Whoever reaches the general election will attempt to find a ground that alienates the least amount of voters and appeals to the broadest populace. I think it remains to be seen what exactly that position will be. I'll write again on it as the general election draws near :),


Election Politics

As the primary season reaches its final stretches, I wanted to write on the front-runners for the Democratic and Republican nominations. In my memory, there have never been such interesting campaign attempts to find the collective pulse of America. This seems particularly true for the debates on immigration law.

Contrary to his attempts at painting himself the outsider, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is a talented insider businessman with a proven ability to reach a target audience. My sense from Mr. Trump and his immigration stance is that he believes the election can be won with isolationism. His arguments for banning Muslim immigration and building a 'giant wall' along the border with Mexico appeal to those who are struggling in an America where opportunities seem more and more distant.

Jobs are scarce for isolationists (and Americans without college degrees in general), so it makes sense that these voters find the message compelling. I wonder for Mr. Trump, however, whether isolationists can carry him to a general election victory. How many voters in the U.S. are immigrants themselves? How about their relatives, their neighbors, their friends? Will there be enough isolationists that vote against these relationships, and carry Mr. Trump to a win here?

I do believe Mr. Trump adept at reaching a target audience, however, his business model cannot be successful without that audience being substantially larger than those playing golf or purchasing condos. 

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, is attempting to reach a segment of the population identifying themselves as immigrants or children/relatives of immigrants. The Democratic front-runner is advocating for comprehensive immigration overhaul, a path to citizenship for those currently living in the US, and a halt to deportation raids in the U.S. 

By many accounts, Mrs. Clinton, an insider by almost all political definitions, is attempting to reach the changing demographics of America through populist arguments. This will continue to challenge her in the national debate as she attempts to reach a large swath of voters.

Take for instance her statement on the migration of children from Central America fleeing to the US. Previously, she maintained that deporting minors would send the proper message to parents, deterring them from sending children to the U.S. She has since been challenged on this in debates, and found herself making the case for these children to remain here, stating that she does not want to deport children. 

In this area of law, we consistently reach an area that challenges so many policy makers: How do you enforce laws, and yet remain a humanitarian for so many people struggling? Mrs. Clinton is attempting to find a populism here that will carry the general election, but I think her arguments will be subject to attack in the general election because of this policy challenge.

What remains to be seen is whether Mr. Trump's arguments for isolationism or Mrs. Clinton's populism find the pulse of America? Something tells me that both candidates will soon be fighting over the patient.