Senator wants some DUI lawyers’ ads banned

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 at 2:13am

A prominent Democratic state senator wants to ban certain advertisements by DUI defense lawyers, which raised First Amendment questions Tuesday and brought criticism from her opponent who practices in DUI law.

Tuesday, Speaker Pro Tem Rosalind Kurita (D-Clarksville) successfully added the provision to ban some advertising styles that DUI lawyers use to a bill.

The provision explicitly prohibited attorneys from advertising that they specialized in DUI cases, from advertising a discounted rate for DUI defense, guaranteeing a certain judgment in the case or claiming that the attorney had more expertise than another on drunken driving defense.

Kurita said she pushed for the amendment because she was tired of suspected DUI offenders not being convicted.

“Is this morally what we want, to allow people to have advertisements that say, ‘let me get you off your drunk driving charge?’” Kurita said. “I mean it’s like we’re saying that it’s OK.”

Kurita offered her amendment as she braces for opposition in the primary election this summer within the Democratic Party, some members of whom still feel betrayed from a key vote Kurita cast in 2007.

That year, Kurita crossed party lines to cast a deciding vote for Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) to be elected speaker of the Senate and lieutenant governor. A few days later, Ramsey appointed Kurita to the Speaker Pro Tem position, the No. 2 spot in the Senate.

In August, Democrats may have their chance for revenge as Kurita will face primary opposition from Tim Barnes, a Clarksville attorney.

Part of Barnes’ area of legal practice includes DUI defense, although he is not a certified specialist.

Barnes advertises that he does DUI defense work, as well as several other areas, in the Yellow Pages, in a local newspaper and on radio stations.

While Barnes says his ads don’t promote what Kurita’s amendment bans — and therefore may not be affected — Barnes said Kurita’s move had “three or four constitutional problems.”

“Even a fundamental understanding of the Constitution would inform somebody that that’s an amendment that you can’t have — that’s a First Amendment right,” Barnes said.

Barnes said the only DUI attorney he could recall who noted a DUI specialty was the late “DUI Mike” Fox.

Kurita said Barnes’ advertising activities didn’t have “any bearing” on her amendment.

“I certainly would not want that to color my intensity on this issue,” Kurita said of cracking down on drunken drivers. “I can’t help extraneous activities.”

The Senate Finance Committee approved Kurita’s amendment on a voice vote, despite Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle’s objections that it violated the First Amendment’s right to free speech.

Kyle, a Memphis attorney, said the Legislature shouldn’t be getting involved in judicial ethics, said Kurita’s amendment appeared “election-driven” and called it unconstitutional.

“If you’re in a legitimate business, you ought to be able to advertise,” Kyle said.

Kyle and Kurita have a rocky recent political history. After Kurita’s vote for Ramsey, Kyle wrote a letter to Democratic Party activists stressing the need to field a challenger against her in 2008.

Kurita said her amendment did not prohibit DUI defense lawyers from advertising.

“But when you say that I can promise you I can get you off your DUI charge, that’s a different deal,” Kurita said.

But currently, Tennessee Supreme Court ethics rules prohibit attorneys from guaranteeing an outcome in a case, said Allan Ramsaur, executive director of the Tennessee Bar Association.

In addition, attorneys are prohibited from advertising that they are specialists unless they receive certification from the state, said Dave Shearon, the executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization.

There are just two DUI specialists in Tennessee. Banning those attorneys from proclaiming they’re specialists — as Kurita’s amendment does — would violate a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court opinion, Shearon said.

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12 Comments on this post:

By: MJB on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Rosalind Kurita is desperately trying to smear & silence her opponent. She traded in her party to become #2 in the Senate. It's too late to backtrack. This bill is silly & obviously unconstitutional.

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

She didn't chose a good fight to fight and it looks like a loser.Pity she didn't lead a fight against the bunker or some other spending program(s).

By: yank283 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

It's a free country Rosalind. If you want to sponser meaningless, useless legislation, you should become a Republican congressman from Knoxville or Jonesborough.

By: theplantsman on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Speaker Pro Tem Rosalind Kurita (D-Clarksville, WHOM are you going to call when you get pulled over? Oh, wait. As a Legislator, you have special automobile license plates to ward off the police thereby giving you and your fellow legislators a privilege that your constituents do not enjoy.Let us make a deal. The lawyers cannot advertise, and you legislators give up your privileges. After all, based on your individual and collective performance you legislators have proven that you are not special nor should you receive privileges.

By: theplantsman on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Mike Turner, and Rosalind Kurita are neither Republican or from Knoxville or Jonesborough.

By: yank283 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

No, but Stacey Campfield and Matthew Hill are.

By: Dragon on 12/31/69 at 6:00

"Kurita said she pushed for the amendment because she was tired of suspected DUI offenders not being convicted."Gee, Senator, why not just forbid the suspects from having a lawyer? I'm sure that would increase the conviction rate.I will admit that some of the sleazy lawyer commercials promising lottery-like winnings for personal injury suits or avoiding punishment for valid DUIs are offensive. But, then again, that's no reason to outlaw them.

By: courier37027 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

This lawmaker is wrong on so many fronts: free enterprise, capitalism, marketing, Constitutional guarantees afforded accused and arrested citizens.Love the politician's thumb point she has in photo.

By: global_citizen on 12/31/69 at 6:00

If there are weaknesses and loopholes in the law that these DUI attorneys are exploiting, the solution is to fix those weaknesses and loopholes. The solution is not in abridging First Amendment rights. Part of what makes our legal system just and fair is that the accused is allowed to bring the most vigorous defense possible. A good attorney will obviously use every tactic and procedure available to him to acquit his client. That's as it should be.I don't know enough about our DUI laws to know what tricks lawyers are using to get ostensibly guilty clients acquitted, but it would seem to be a simple matter of correcting the law to not allow guilty defendants to go free if DUI lawyers are consistently exploiting known loopholes.

By: lori390 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Immigration attorneys do basically the same thing. Let's stop them from advertising too.

By: Mafettig on 3/4/10 at 2:22

Any idiot knows that the DUI laws are a result of an unethical allowance where the problem is allowed simply for jurisdictions to seperate their doo-gooders from the less fortunate members so to speak - the fix would be to issue alcohol cards, and remove the right to drink from offenders. Opposing arguments to my proposal have been that, people can find ways around the law to obtainb alcohol - well, we still see drunk people arrested for drivinf while revoked...they drive to the store, buy it (because they still can) and then drive off. Tell your government to stop entrapping you by voting in laws that remove the problem, rather. Crippling people's ability to survive is not the way.

By: T. Payne on 5/10/10 at 2:46

I need those. I need a good attorney. I'm working on my 6th dui arrest.