"A Pennsylvania lawyer does not have standing to challenge a state ethics rule banning discrimination and harassment in the practice of law, a federal appeals court has ruled.
In an Aug. 29 opinion, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Philadelphia tossed the lawsuit filed by lawyer Zachary Greenberg of Pennsylvania, who contended that the rule violated the First Amendment and was unconstitutionally vague.
Greenberg had feared that his continuing legal education presentations could be interpreted as harassment or discrimination under the ethics rule. Greenberg’s CLE seminars quoted offensive language from judicial opinions and discussed arguably controversial topics.
But the challenged rule—Rule 8.4(g) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct—does not generally prevent Greenberg from quoting offensive words or expressing controversial opinions, the 3rd Circuit said.
The appeals court also cited a declaration from the chief disciplinary counsel of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s disciplinary board, who said Greenberg’s planned speeches and writings did not violate the ethics rule.
The chief disciplinary counsel interpreted the rule as encompassing only conduct that targets harassment or discrimination against “an identifiable person.” The official does not interpret Rule 8.4(g) as banning general discussions of caselaw or controversial opinions.”