New York lawyer (and GW Law graduate) Aaron Schlossberg who went on a bizarre tirade against Spanish-speaking restaurant workers has quickly become the most hated man of the week in New York. The New York Post reports that he has now been kicked out of his office by Corporate Suites, the company that held his lease. There is also an effort to disbar him and even a petition to hire a mariachiband to follow him around New York. That could lead to an interesting legal fight if he alleges harassment or stalking. The moves against Schlossberg raises our long-standing debate over actions taken against people for obnoxious or unpopular speech in their private lives or on social media.
In the video, Schlossberg seems triggered by people speaking Spanish and suggests that the employees are likely undocumented immigrants, and threatens to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to report them: “My guess is they’re not documented. So my next call is to ICE to have each one of them kicked out of my country.”
The New York bar follows the standard professional conduct rules with general language on misconduct raising questions of fitness but focus on actions taken in the practice of law:
A lawyer or law firm shall not:
4. Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.
6. Unlawfully discriminate in the practice of law, including in hiring, promoting or otherwise determining conditions of employment, on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sex, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation. Where there is a tribunal with jurisdiction to hear a complaint, if timely brought, other than a Departmental Disciplinary Committee, a complaint based on unlawful discrimination shall be brought before such tribunal in the first instance. A certified copy of a determination by such a tribunal, which has become final and enforceable, and as to which the right to judicial or appellate review has been exhausted, finding that the lawyer has engaged in an unlawful discriminatory practice shall constitute prima facie evidence of professional misconduct in a disciplinary proceeding.
We have seen bars block admission for people with racist views in the past, as with the Nathan Hale case. The question is where to draw such a line on racist or offensive or intolerant views.
The basis for terminating the lease is equally problematic if based on the political views of a tenant, though a commercial space there is likely fewer regulatory protections. I am assuming that Schlossberg is an at-will or monthly tenant but it is still uncommon to see a termination for the exercise of free speech, even offensive speech. The landlord could view Schlossberg as so controversial that his presence could threaten the operation or access at the building.
His website says that he handles business and commercial law in New York. He has an impressive resume. He earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from The Johns Hopkins University and his Juris Doctorate Degree from the George Washington University Law School. Notably, he studied in Spain and knows Spanish.
Like most people, I find Schlossberg’s statements to be deeply troubling and offensive. Of course, nothing protects Schlossberg from public criticism for his offensive speech, including those who want nothing to do with him as a lawyer. However, as a free speech advocate, I am concerned about lease terminations and disbarment proceedings based entirely on the unpopularity of speech. The First Amendment protects us against government speech regulation. Yet, the termination of a lease or a disbarment proceeding raise contractual and policy concerns over when people can be evicted or denied a livelihood over the use of free speech.
Where should the line be drawn in such cases?