Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Association

PETITIONER: Middlesex County Ethics Committee
RESPONDENT: Garden State Bar Association
LOCATION: Mississippi University for Women

DOCKET NO.: 81-460
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 457 US 423 (1982)
ARGUED: Mar 31, 1982
DECIDED: Jun 21, 1982

Mary Ann Burgess - on behalf of the Petitioner
Morton Stavis - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Association

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 31, 1982 in Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Association

Warren E. Burger:

Ms. Burgess, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Mary Ann Burgess:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The present case involves a strong public policy consistently fostered by this Court against interference with state proceedings by federal courts either by way of injunction or declaratory remarks.

The court below declined to follow this policy and interfered in an ongoing state bar disciplinary process, thereby inserting itself into the delicate relationship between a state judiciary and attorney's license to practice before it.

The case therefore provides this Court with an opportunity to consider the application of the policy of noninterference articulated in Younger and amplified by its progeny to attorney disciplinary proceedings, and to firmly establish the appropriateness of federal noninterference to such proceedings which involve such significant and important state concerns.

It must be underscored that what this case does not involve is the constitutionality of particular disciplinary rules or whether an attorney violated those rules.

What is at stake is whether the State Supreme Court can articulate and develop standards governing attorney discipline and discipline attorneys who have been charged with violating those standards free and unfettered from federal intervention.

However, in order to fully appreciate the issues that this raises it is necessary to briefly discuss the factual setting in which it arose.

The case has its origin in the criminal trial of Joanne Chesimard who was charged with the murder of a New Jersey state trooper.

During the jury selection process in this trial Lennox Hinds, an attorney in New Jersey, called a press conference concerning the conduct of that trial, and more particular, that of the trial judge.

Reports of the press conference--

Had there been any advance... had there been any advance indication from the judge directing all counsel not to have any public statements?

Mary Ann Burgess:

--It is my understanding, Chief Justice, that there was an order of some type directed to the counsel in the case, and I believe that during the press conference Mr. Hinds indicated that he was speaking on behalf of the counsel in the case because they had been gagged by the trial court judge.

That was report in the news article which appeared in the New York Daily News and the Newark Star Ledger.

The report--

He was not himself of counsel, is that right?

Mary Ann Burgess:

--He was not of counsel in that particular trial, yes, Chief Justice.

It was reported in these articles that Mr. Hinds had called the proceeding a travesty, had indicated that Judge Appleby, the trial judge, was without judicial temperament or racial sensitivity to sit as an objective judge in this particular trial.

It was reported that he called the... that he accused the judge of asking self-serving questions which was leading to the creation of a hangman's court.

David Foley, a member of the Middlesex County Ethics Committee, brought these articles to the attention of the committee.

He was authorized to investigate the matter and determine whether there were any possible infractions of the New Jersey disciplinary rules.

He communicated by letter with Mr. Hinds and asked for an opportunity to meet with him and discuss the reports that had been circulated, had been reported in the papers.

Mr. Hinds declined to meet with Mr. Foley, and although the attorney disciplinary process is a private, confidential process, he disclosed that initial communication at a press conference, and it was widely publicized in the papers.

In order to protect the jury trial that was still in process the committee determined not to proceed with the investigation until the trial itself had been concluded.

When it was concluded, the investigation was reactivated and Mr. Foley again attempted to meet with Mr. Hinds to discuss the matter.

After several unsuccessful attempts, the investigation went on without Mr. Hinds' cooperation.

When it was concluded, Mr. Foley recommended that a statement of charges be filed against Mr. Hinds.

Ms. Burgess, I wonder if you'd try to speak just a little louder, would you?

Mary Ann Burgess:


Indicating that he had been... had violated Disciplinary Rule 1-102(A)(5) in that the statements were prejudicial to the administration of justice; and secondly, that these statements violated DR 7-107(D) in that they were made during the jury selection process and were reasonably likely to interfere with a fair trial in that they were intended to influence the taking of prospective jurors.