Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada, 501 U.S. 1030 (1991)

2012-06-27 00:47:16

This case found that the First Amendment protected political comments made by a lawyer during a press conference, while holding that attorneys’ speech could be restricted if they knew their comments would create a ‘‘substantial likelihood of material prejudice’’ in a court proceeding.

Dominic Gentile, a lawyer in Nevada, was reprimanded by the state bar for holding a press conference on behalf of a client. Gentile held the press conference to counter negative publicity against his client, who was accused of theft, and to present his theory that corrupt police were actually responsible for the crimes. The Nevada bar said Gentile should have known that his statements were likely to prejudice his client’s coming trial.

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed Gentile’s reprimand and voided Nevada’s court rule for violating the First Amendment. The state failed to show that Gentile should have known that his press conference would bias his client’s case; on the contrary, the Court favored Gentile’s argument that he did not believe his comments would prejudice a jury. The Court also concluded that the Nevada rule was unconstitutionally vague and raised suspicions of selective enforcement by the authorities, given that Gentile implicated police corruption in his comments. The Court categorized his criticism of the government as political speech, deserving of special protection under the First Amendment as a check on state power. However, commentators afterwards focused less on the Court’s forgiveness of Gentile and more on the possibility that other lawyers’ free speech could still be restricted if their comments were likely to affect a court proceeding.


References and Further Reading

  • Campbell, L. C., Gentile v. State Bar and Model Rule 3.6: Overly Broad Restrictions on Attorney Speech and Pretrial Publicity, Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics 6 (1993): 583–608.
  • Daly, J. L., What Can the Defense Attorney Say at a ‘‘Pre- Formal Charge’’ Press Conference? Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada Puts a Porous Gag on Trial Lawyers, The American Journal of Trial Advocacy 15 (Winter 1991/ 1992): 269–291.
  • Day, Suzanne, Note: The Supreme Court’s Attack on Attorneys’ Freedom of Expression: The Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada Decision, Case Western Reserve Law Review 43 (1993): 1347–1409.
  • Porter, Lester, Jr., Note: Leaving Your Speech Rights at the Bar—Gentile v. State Bar, 111 S. Ct. 2720 (1991), Washington Law Review 67 (1992): 733–753.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada, 501 U.S. 1030 (1991)

See also Application of First Amendment to States; Disciplining Lawyers for Speaking about Pending Cases; Threats and Free Speech