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FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. � For the second time in about a year, the consumer rights group Public Citizen has sued a state bar association over its advertising restrictions for lawyers. Washington-based Public Citizen, along with Jacksonville, Fla., law firm Harrell & Harrell, recently sued the Florida Bar in federal court in Jacksonville. The suit claims that the bar’s lawyer-advertising restrictions violate the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Harrell v. The Florida Bar, No. 08-0015 (M.D. Fla.). Public Citizen previously sued the New York State Bar Association in early 2007 over its newly adopted, “sweeping” advertising restrictions, said Public Citizen attorney Greg Beck. Public Citizen won on nearly every issue with one issue still on appeal. Alexander v. Cahill, No. 07-117 (N.D.N.Y.). The Florida case involves an ad run by the Harrell firm on television, in print and in Yellow Pages ads. The ad uses the slogan, “Don’t Settle for Less Than You Deserve.” William Harrell said he has been using the slogan since 2002. The Florida Bar’s advertising regulations for lawyers are among the most restrictive in the country. It requires lawyer ads to be submitted in advance for approval. The detailed rules ban lawyers from using actors in commercials and from using sound effects such as a light switch turning off; they even mandate the color background of commercials. Only black is allowed. The bar states that the rules exist to prevent deceptive advertising and maintain the dignity of the profession. However, lawyers have long complained that the rules are too restrictive and unfair, that no other profession’s ads are subject to the same level of scrutiny and that they violate the First Amendment. Harrell needed to resubmit his ad for approval in 2007, and was stunned to receive a letter from the bar informing him that the same slogan that was approved in 2002 was suddenly disapproved for use. Public Citizen substantially prevailed in the case it brought against the New York State Bar Association on behalf of a Syracuse personal injury firm when the court declared nearly all of the bar’s restrictions to be unconstitutional. Beck said the consumer group is driven by the principle that “consumers benefit when they get truthful information and not necessarily restrictions. At some point, interest in free expression and free capitalism come together.” The suit seeks a preliminary injunction and a trial. Bar fights back The Florida Bar has moved to dismiss most of the claims. Barry Richard and his law firm Greenberg Traurig have been hired to defend the bar. He noted that the bar’s Board of Governors has already recommended that the rule related to background colors of ads be altered. The plaintiffs “haven’t given any indication that they have been threatened with respect to the rules,” Richard said. “I think they’re all sustainable.” As to the bar previously approving Harrell’s slogan, Richard said, “the fact that something is approved does not mean that the bar is forever bound to it and cannot change its policy.” He added that Harrell could have appealed the bar’s decision to the Board of Governors, but instead chose to file suit. Correction: This article should have stated that Public Citizen sued the counsel to the New York Appellate Division’s disciplinary committees regarding attorney advertising rules.

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