In a remarkable ruling, U.S. District Judge Paul Borman has ordered firebrand attorney Geoffrey Fieger to pull TV commercials critical of the Bush Administration. Borman ruled that such ads threatened to influence the jury pool in Fieger’s upcoming trial for making illegal contributions to the John Edwards 2004 presidential campaign. It is an extremely rare ruling that pits judicial administration against the first amendment.
Fieger stands accused of making $127,000 worth of illegal contributions to John Edwards. Feiger has been in an open war with Michigan judges over the last few years. Click here
He has been running ads that compares the Bush Administration to Nazis and warns of an attack on the legal profession.
The commercials show the pictures of Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former White House adviser Karl Rove. Other ads show Bush referring in a derogatory manner to “Dr. Kevorkian’s lawyer” — Fieger first attracted national attention as Kevorkian’s lawyer.
It is extremely problematic for the Justice Department to seek the suspension of such political speech through a court. Yet, both sides in the case has been barred from making public statements about the case. The order applies to all public statements including commercials. The problem is that Fieger is also a public figure — albeit a very controversial one. This order would effectively silence him from criticism of the Administration.
Borman does not appear to view this as a close question, at least with regard to some of the commercials: “This first one is just totally off the wall and outright blatant given that we have a jury trial coming up.”
One can certainly see the concern that Fieger is trying to circumvent the order. However, the issue that he raises has been expressed (perhaps more responsibly) by others. This may be an interesting one to watch.
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