Court disciplines lawyer over campaign conduct

Supreme Court of Florida
The Court said it was placing future candidates on notice.

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday reprimanded an attorney over criticism of his opponent in a 2018 judicial race and warned that lawyers could face stiffer discipline for future campaign attacks.

Justices approved a referee’s recommendation to reprimand Bryon Aven, who unsuccessfully tried to unseat Marion County Judge Robert Landt in an August 2018 primary election. The Supreme Court said Aven violated Florida Bar rules and a canon of the Code of Judicial Conduct, at least in part because Aven’s campaign website included criticism of Landt’s record in criminal cases.

Thursday’s main opinion shared by Justices Alan Lawson, John Couriel and Jamie Grosshans said the Supreme Court also was  placing “future candidates for judicial office on notice that this court takes misrepresentations that cast a sitting judge in a false light seriously because of their potential to undermine confidence in the rule of law.”

The opinion added, “Accordingly, in the future, similar misconduct presented in the posture of this type of case should be expected to result in a more severe sanction, including suspension.”

Justices Ricky Polston and Carlos Muniz agreed with the result but did not sign on to the main opinion. But Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Jorge Labarga wrote dissents, saying Aven deserved more-severe discipline.

Labarga wrote that Aven’s punishment should be “a suspension from the practice of law for at least 60 days, in addition to a public reprimand to be administered by The Florida Bar. While … a suspension may not deter such behavior in some cases in the future, it will, however, serve as a stronger message that this court will not tolerate the ‘end justifies the means’ approach utilized by respondent (Aven) in this case.”


Republished with permission from News Service of Florida

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