You lose your rights, not with a bang, but with a whimper. One small encroachment after another. A bureaucrat pushes the edges here, a prosecutor challenges the boundaries in a few cases there. No one says or does anything and then you look up and suddenly a cherished right is gone.
Nothing is more insidious and dangerous to our constitutional rights than a bureaucrat who, under the cover of a government agency, seeks to intimidate someone. That is why the letters we have posted from the Florida Bar to attorney and blogger William Gelin have so alarmed us: the bloggers who run the Justice Building Blog, the South Florida Lawyers Blog, and the Southern District of Florida Blog.
WIlliam Gelin runs the JAA Blog which covers the Broward County Courthouse. To Mr. Gelin's credit he has never sought to hide his identity as the lawyer behind the blog. As a blogger who has openly challenged the way things are done in Broward, Mr. Gelin has courageously taken on numerous people in Broward County, including judges. Now, apparently after a series of posts about two Judges in West Palm Beach and Broward County, (ironically) anonymous bar complaints have prompted the Bar to send Mr. Gelin letters seeking him to admit or deny his involvement in the JAA Blog.
We as the legal blogging community in Miami view these letters as an unprecedented attack on the First Amendment and freedom of speech. The letters are chilling, and will have a chilling affect on the free speech of lawyers. Judges are invested with responsibilities and powers and all too often those powers cloud their judgment. The ability of lawyers to freely comment on a Judge represents an important check on those powers. The ability of citizens to write about the issues of the day has a long and storied history in our country. James Madison anonymously published many of the federalist papers under the pseudonym Publius in the local newspapers of the time. Blogging, anonymous and otherwise, serves a similar purpose.
The Florida Bar's letters to Mr. Gelin amount to both a fishing expedition and a veiled threat for him to stop criticizing Judges from the pages of his blog. We jointly condemn the letters the Bar has written, and stand behind our colleague in this matter. That is why all three blogs have taken the unprecedented step of running this post simulataneously. We urge our readers to voice their support of Mr. Gelin by writing to the Bar to condemn the actions of the Bar Counsel in this case.
Justice Building Blog
South Florida Lawyers
Southern District of Florida Blog