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June 25, 2024

The briefs argue Florida Bar’s sanctions violate First Amendment rights

MIAMI, FL (June 24, 2024) — The ACLU of Florida has filed two amicus briefs in support of civil rights attorneys Brooke Girley and Jerry Girley, arguing that the Florida Bar’s decision to suspend their licenses for 30 days violates the First Amendment. The suspension follows the Girleys’ criticism of Judge Kevin Weiss and the Florida legal system after a recent case.

“The Florida Bar’s actions will have the effect of silencing attorneys who speak out against injustice,” said Jerry Edwards, staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida. “The right to criticize the government, including the judiciary, is foundational to our First Amendment protections. There are no special circumstances in this case that justify deviating from this principle.”

The amicus briefs highlight a glaring hypocrisy: while prominent Florida-licensed attorneys like Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz, and Marco Rubio have made similar critical statements about the legal system without facing any sanctions, the Girleys are being punished. This selective enforcement starkly exposes a double standard that undermines fairness and equality under the law. This is precisely the type of hypocrisy the Girleys were fighting against, highlighting their point that there seems to be a separate standard for Black and brown people.

When it comes to matters of public opinion and attorneys zealously advocating for their clients, they should not be sanctioned for their critiques, especially when these critiques are shaped by their lived experiences within the justice system. Instead of penalizing those who expose these disparities, the focus should be on eliminating the inequalities they highlight. The Girleys’ case underscores the urgent need to address and rectify the systemic biases that plague our legal system.

“The Girleys’ case is not just about two attorneys; it’s a pivotal battle for free speech and racial justice,” emphasized Edwards. “In Florida, Black voices are systematically silenced, from the legislature to the criminal legal system. The Girleys, as Black attorneys, gave voice to these systemic biases that undermine our democracy. Their courage in speaking out is essential. We must ensure that every individual, regardless of their profession or background, can freely express their views on matters of public concern. This case is a crucial part of the fight for equality and justice for all.”

The ACLU of Florida remains committed to defending the constitutional rights of all individuals and will continue to fight against actions that threaten these freedoms.