March 27, 2006

Court rejects lawyers’ appeal over pit bull ads

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Florida lawyers on Monday lost a
U.S. Supreme Court appeal that argued the state violated their
free-speech rights by disciplining them for their television
advertisements featuring a pit bull dog.

The case involved a pair of Fort Lauderdale personal injury
lawyers whose advertisements showed a spike-collared pit bull
in their law firm's logo and prominently displayed the firm's
telephone number: 1-800-PIT-BULL.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled last year that the
advertisements "demean all lawyers and thereby harm both the
legal profession and the public's trust and confidence in our
system of justice."

It said the appropriate sanctions for attorneys John Robert
Pape and Marc Andrew Chandler were public reprimands and
required attendance at an advertising workshop.

They appealed to the Supreme Court. Rodney Smolla, the
University of Richmond law school dean, acknowledged in the
appeal that "a conflict over whether a lawyer may use the image
of a pit bull to advertise might at first seem trifling."

But the law professor, an expert on the First Amendment,
told the justices that the state's ban on such advertising
involved substantial constitutional, free-speech issues.

"It may well be that many American lawyers, including
members of the court, would not choose to present themselves to
consumers by conjuring an association with pit bulls," Smolla

"But under our First Amendment principles," he added, "we
assign the management of good taste to the forces of the
marketplace, not the forces of government."

The high court rejected the appeal without comment or
recorded dissent.