Lawyers may face discipline for criticizing a judge’s ruling in discrimination case
Jan 9, 2024, 1:53 PM | Updated: 7:12 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A father-daughter pair of lawyers in Florida may face disciplinary action for speaking out against a judge’s ruling that overturned a jury decision awarding $2.7 million to a Black doctor who alleged he was subjected to racial discrimination.
Civil rights attorney Jerry Girley represented the doctor after he was fired from AdventHealth in Orlando in 2021. A jury sided with Girley’s client, but the judge presiding over the case reversed that decision because he said the plaintiff failed to prove unlawful racial discrimination had taken place.
Girley and his daughter, Brooke Girley — who was not involved in the case — publicly criticized the judge’s decision, according to The Florida Bar. The organization of licensed lawyers in Florida says Jerry Girley gave an interview in which he said the decision was improper and that the court system doesn’t provide equal justice to all. The Florida Bar said Brooke Girley wrote on social media that “Even when we win, it only takes one white judge to reverse our victory.”
The state judge in the case, Kevin Weiss, said in court papers that the Girleys’ allegations “spread across the internet” and led to death threats requiring police protection at his home.
The Florida Bar says the criticism leveled at Weiss amounted to the Girleys violating an oath they took promising to respect the courts and judicial officers.
The Girleys and their attorney, David Winker, argue that disciplining them could chill free speech for Florida lawyers.
In a series of hearings this week, The Florida Bar asked Circuit Judge Lisa Herndon to find that the Girleys had violated their oaths and recommend disciplinary action. Punishment could go as far as disbarment or suspension of the Girleys’ law licenses.
On Tuesday, Herndon said Jerry Girley had indeed violated his oath, according to Winker. The judge is scheduled to rule in Brooke Girley’s case on Wednesday and hear disciplinary recommendations Thursday. Ultimately, the Florida Supreme Court will make any final decision.
Jerry Girley, who is Black, said the entire affair should be considered in the context of Florida’s political environment, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has removed two Democratic prosecutors, public colleges have been blocked from using taxpayer money on diversity programs and standards for teaching Black history say teachers should instruct middle-school students that enslaved people “developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
“What is disturbing to me, as a Black man living in Florida, is I find I have to be careful about what I say, what I think about race, not just in courts, but in schools, in corporate settings,” Girley said. “It’s a weight.”
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