A lawyer does not have a free-speech right to leave profane-ridden telephone messages for a client attempting to collect legal fees, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma has ruled recently. The decision shows that attorneys relinquish some of their First Amendment rights as a member of a learned profession where they are not only zealous advocates but also officers of the court.
Attorney Chad Ward Moody became upset upon learning that his client, Nichalas Frank, had not paid his agreed-upon fee of $4,000. Mr. Moody was hired to represent Mr. Frank in a criminal law matter.
Moody left two telephone messages. One message contained eight profane words and the second message contained two profane words. For example, one part of one of the messages read:
So why don’t you come to my office, because I’m having a frustrating day, and I would like to really beat the [deleted] out of somebody and that way, you can at least make yourself somewhat useful to the human race. [Deleted] pay me [deleted].
Mr. Frank later filed a complaint with the Oklahoma Bar Association and disciplinary proceedings ensued against Mr. Moody. The bar association contended that Moody violated provisions of the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct that prohibit conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and that bring discredit to the legal profession.
A trial panel found that Moody violated the rules and recommended he be publicly censured. Moody appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
On April 11, 2017, the Oklahoma high court affirmed the panel’s findings and ruled that Moody should be a public reprimand in State of Oklahoma ex. rel. Oklahoma Bar Association v. Moody.
Moody contended that his telephone messages were a form of protected speech under the First Amendment. The Oklahoma high court disagreed, finding such a free-speech argument as an “unpersuasive rationalization for rash acts.”
The high court wrote that Moody “should know bullying and threats are not acceptable for a professional who has sworn to uphold the rule of law.”
Individuals often have a First Amendment right to utter profanity, but attorneys are held to higher standards.