Disciplined Law Student Appears Before Disciplined Judge in Case Against Regent University

Law Student Adam Key, 23, is learning the practical elements of a first amendment case from his school, Regent University — though not under the usual clinical conditions. He is suing the University after he claims it violated his right to free speech last November in suspending for posting an unflattering picture of Pat Robertson on the Internet. Ironically, his case was heard by a judge who knows something about suspensions and discipline. Judge Samuel Kent, who was disciplined for misconduct himself and has been suspended from hearing criminal cases. He is believed to still be under criminal investigation for sexual assault and other crimes — and could face impeachment with another Fifth Circuit judge (click here).

Key alleges that Regent recruited him with a false promise of a standard legal education, including a community that valued free speech. (For full disclosure, I once gave a speech at Regents on free exercise of religion, free association, and other constitutional rights). He was given a full scholarship. He has added Robertson as a defendant. In his lawsuit, he wants to clean his disciplinary record from Regent, recover fees he paid for his unfinished third semester at the law school, and damages for embarrassment as well as emotional pain and suffering. He is now completing an interdisciplinary studies master’s degree at Stephen F. Austin State University and intends to enroll this fall as a second-year student at the University of Houston Law Center.

Key insists that he merely posted a picture as a joke after Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Key changed a picture of Robertson to show an obscene gesture. Wen he was threatened with discipline by school officials, he took the picture down. He later added the picture to a condemnation of the school’s free speech and obscenity policies. Kent will now decide these initials question, despite his own precarious status, click here

While Key has legitimate objections to how Regents responded to his posting, his complaint is a long shot. Such challenges rarely succeed. It is not fraud, even if the school is wrong in how it reacted to the posting. He stands a better shot in objecting to the ABA over the accreditation of the law school, but even that is unlikely to result in serious action. Putting aside the legal merits, Regents has always struggled with its two missions — at least in the view of outsiders. It has a talented faculty and student body. However, it risks the image of a cult of personality when its students cannot exercise first amendment rights in the criticism of the Administration. Robertson’s statement regarding Chavez was bizarre and legitimately subject to scorn. Key was a bit juvenile in his chosen criticism but there is no question that it was an exercise of free speech. Notably, it was Robertson’s counterpart in the religious movement, Jerry Falwell, who helped establish the protection of parody before the Supreme Court in a case against Hustler magazine. (Click here).

Of course, Regents is not a state actor. However, as a legal educational institution, it must do more than teach first amendment values. It must also show a modicum of restraint in allowing such speech within its own community.

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84 thoughts on “Disciplined Law Student Appears Before Disciplined Judge in Case Against Regent University”

  1. Mespo, right again. But honestly, if some prosecutors and judges can’t handle what I think is often the whining of right-wing ideologues due to their own thin skins, maybe they should get out of criminal law and look for other work. As a citizen who doesn’t have the big bucks to hire a top criminal defense attorney, I shudder to think how easy it has now become for anyone to make an unjust and very often unfounded accusation of a “criminal” offense against someone like me, and I could end up in jail because of it.

    A while ago, I wrote an essay of sorts on another forum, which I called “The Titanic Effect and our Criminal Justice System,” because to anyone who has been accused of ANY kind of criminal offense, that’s exactly what it feels like; being on a ship that is rapidly sinking…with them on it. It hasn’t happened to me personally, and thank goodness for that, but with the prosecution mania J.T. has talked about, it could, and for the most idiotic “offense.” Or to any of us.

    If judges and prosecutors are afraid to tell some of these imbeciles who truly believe “there ought to be a law” against a completely harmless activity or action (like swearing or “aggressive handshaking” for example) to get a grip, it is my opinion they need to get out of criminal law…NOW.

  2. Susan: I think the problem may stem from the vocal criticism judges and prosecutors suffer from right-wing ideologues. Since criminal defendants have no natural constituency like crime victims do, the easiest thing to do is go with the popular position and infringe the rights of those who have no voice. That’s where criminal lawyers come in to keep the process honest and drag it kicking and screaming sometimes back to neutral. It amazes me that there is so much animus in conservative circles to this type of role for lawyers. It also happens when trial lawyers go after rogue corporations, who intentionally or negligently injure and kill for profit. Somehow this crowd believes it could never happen to them–and, historically, it almost invariably does happen.

  3. Thanks, Mespo, I agree with all of the above. It all just gets very frustrating at times, particularly when I read of cases that J.T. has recently reported, where no apparent crime was even committed, except in a police officer’s or prosecutor’s own mind.

    One of them is the “Aggressive Handshake” case and J.T.’s column titled “The Criminalization of America.” What these law enforcement officials were “thinking” in making some of these actions crimes is completely beyond me. Maybe they’re suffering from “prosecutorial dysfunction.” I know that’s only my opinion, and probably a cheap shot, but that’s as good a guess as any. I get a bit cranky when I see what appears to be very innocent citizens unfairly prosecuted.

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