ALABAMA–A state trial judge in Birmingham in late June ordered newspapers and broadcast stations not to print or air any information regarding an ethics complaint against an Alabama law firm. The next day, before media organizations had a chance to challenge the order, Judge William Wynn dissolved his ban.
The judge was trying to keep confidential allegations of ethics violations filed last year before the Alabama Bar Association by a law clerk who had worked for the firm. The law clerk alleged, among other things, that one of the firm’s attorneys took his wife on a cruise and charged it to a client, according to the Birmingham Post-Herald. Under bar rules, parties filing complaints must promise to be bound by a confidentiality agreement until the matter is decided by the bar.
In his order, Wynn wrote that “a prominent member of the Bar Association” told him the law clerk was violating the confidentiality agreement by telling “his story to any newspaper or media outlet which would listen.”
The law firm asked the judge for the publication and broadcast ban after the Post-Herald contacted the firm with questions about the allegations. The judge also imposed a gag order on the law clerk.
The newspaper delayed publication of its story and was ready to challenge the ban in court, a Post-Herald reporter said.
The next day, however, the judge lifted the media gag order because the law clerk “swore under oath … that it would be in his best interest not to discuss the matter until all claims against all parties have been adjudicated.”
The law clerk is still subject to the gag order and has not participated in any media interviews for several weeks.
The Alabama Bar Association is investigating the charges, and has not taken any disciplinary action. (Roden v. Poff)
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