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An Ohio judge jailed an public defender (and blocked her from appointments for further work) for contempt of court when the attorney refused to remove a "Black Lives Matter" pin. The logic seems to be (A) courts are supposed to be neutral, (B) neutrality means that officers of the court may not demonstrate non-neutrality, (C) attorneys are officers of the court, and therefore (D) attorneys may not express non-neutral viewpoints. The judge's specific reasoning, cited at 2:54 in the article video, is that "he could not let someone demonstrate a viewpoint in a court that is supposed to be fair and impartial." That's a very broad rule.

However, that seems to run against the idea that attorneys are supposed to be zealous advocates for their clients' positions in an adversarial system, the opposite of attorney neutrality.

Where does the logic chain in A-B-C-D above break down, or how far does it extend to restrict attorneys' expression of or advocacy for non-neutral positions?

  • Presumably one difference is that a political position is not usually related to a client's position at trial. An attorney promoting a (possibly unrelated) political view is arguably detrimental to her client. – phoog Sep 26 '16 at 16:29
  • Among other things, the Black Lives Matter movement protests against [at least perceived] over-policing of black neighborhoods, mass incarceration, police brutality, racially-based discrimination in officer discretion around what is treated as a crime/threat/etc. (and/or the similar judicial discretion that applies around sentencing). It would seem very congruent for a public defender to advocate for these things that at least reasonably appear to be in the interests of her clientele, and a little concerning that she's not allowed even this small bit of advocacy for those views. – WBT Sep 26 '16 at 18:14
  • I agree. But would the members of the jury? – phoog Sep 26 '16 at 18:32
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    @WBT The point is that she is supposed to be an active advocate for her client. However, if her client was on the other side, she would be required to just as active for that client. As a result, she must be personally neutral in order to fulfill that duty. Consider an author who creates a racist bigoted character that is everything he is personally against or an actor who plays that role. One should not see the personal viewpoint to the detriment of the professional duty. – sabbahillel Sep 26 '16 at 19:18
  • @phoog I think that should be up to the members of the jury (if any!) to decide, and it should be up to the atty. to make a prediction about whether or not the reminder would be helpful or hurtful to the point she's trying to make. If, for example, she's in court on a motion to exclude evidence resulting from police misconduct, it might be helpful. This conversation is not supposed to be about whether or not she should wear the pin, but rather whether or not she should be allowed to demonstrate that or any other viewpoint. By this rule, no viewpoints may be demonstrated by attorneys. – WBT Sep 26 '16 at 20:23

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