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Jan. 31, 2011 

5th Circuit Strikes Down Restrictive Rules Governing Louisiana Lawyer Ads

Appellate Court Agrees With Public Citizen That Rules Violate First Amendment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down several restrictive rules governing lawyer advertisements in Louisiana, agreeing with Public Citizen that they were unconstitutional.

 The rules, which took effect in 2009, prohibited references to past successes as well as portrayals of judges and juries. They also required disclaimers to be in such large type that they would overwhelm the ad.

 “This decision is a win for Louisiana consumers,” said Greg Beck, the Public Citizen attorney who handled the case challenging the rules. “The court rightly recognized that the state failed to provide any good reason for restricting these forms of advertising. Rules should be tailored to real problems, not written in response to biases against lawyer ads.”

 Public Citizen and two Louisiana attorneys, Morris Bart and William N. Gee III, filed the suit in 2008, arguing that the Louisiana Supreme Court’s new rules governing lawyer advertising violated free speech and imposed vague and unfair restrictions on how lawyers can communicate with consumers.

 A federal district court ruled for the state; Public Citizen and the lawyers appealed.

 While it struck down several of the challenged rules, the appellate court agreed with the lower court that a few were constitutional. Those rules prohibit ads that promise results or use a motto or trade name that implies an ability to obtain results. At the same time, the court read those rules narrowly to prohibit only ads that create consumer confusion. The decision leaves open the possibility that the rules could be applied unconstitutionally and then challenged in a new case.

 Public Citizen has successfully challenged restrictive lawyer ad rules in New York and is challenging similar rules in Florida.

 To learn more about the case, visit http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/pressroomredirect.cfm?ID=2738 and http://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/getlinkforcase.cfm?cID=425.
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