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DETROIT- A controversy over pretrial publicity is boiling in Michigan, where embattled trial attorney Geoffrey Fieger is facing scrutiny over television ads he is running while awaiting trial. At issue is whether Fieger is trying to taint the jury pool by running commercials that, among other things, compare the Bush administration to Nazis, and claim that trial lawyers are under attack from the federal government. Fieger was indicted last year on charges of illegally funneling $127,000 to former presidential candidate John Edwards in 2004. His trial is set for April. Earlier this month, a magistrate judge ordered Fieger to discontinue his ads after federal prosecutors expressed concerns that he is trying to taint the jury pool. But Fieger has appealed on First Amendment grounds. A final ruling is due on March 5. Of the dozen Fieger commercials being aired, the one facing the most scrutiny compares the Bush administration to Nazis, and talks about how “they came for the communists . . . the unionists . . . the Jews, the gypsies and the Catholics . . . then they came for the lawyers.” The case has drawn intense interest from lawyers around the country, with some arguing that Fieger has a right to free speech, and others claiming he has crossed the line with his pretrial publicity tactics. “I can see why the court might be concerned that these commercials, essentially, are an attempt to get prejudicial information to the jury,” said Phyllis Sumner, a partner at Atlanta’s King & Spalding and a former federal prosecutor. “What hurts [Fieger's] argument is that he is making vindictive prosecution claims in court, and those commercials seem to be consistent with that legal issue.” Fieger declined to comment, as did his attorney, Michael Dezsi of Southfield, Mich.’s Fieger, Fieger, Kenney, Johnson & Giroux. Federal prosecutors in Detroit also declined to comment. The American Bar Association would not comment on the Fieger case. But lawyers don’t give up their free speech rights just because they’re lawyers, noted David A. Clark, general counsel of the State Bar of Nevada, where a similar pretrial publicity controversy recently unfolded. It involved Noel Gage, a plaintiffs’ lawyer who is currently on trial for allegedly conspiring with doctors to drive up medical costs and receiving kickbacks from settlements. In the months preceding his trial, Gage aired TV ads claiming trial lawyers were under siege. The State Bar of Nevada, which reviewed the ads under new advertising rules, held that Gage violated no rules of professional conduct. “We didn’t see anything wrong with that,” Clark said. A similar argument was made before a federal judge in Detroit last week, when Dezsi defended the commercials, noting that the ads don’t even mention the trial. “Mr. Fieger has a right to protect himself, and his ads have a right to criticize elected officials,” Dezsi said in court.

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