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Chicago Council of Lawyers v. Bauer

decided: August 4, 1975.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 70 C 2194. EDWIN A. ROBSON, Judge. RICHARD B. AUSTIN. Judge. JAMES B. PARSONS, Judge. HUBERT L. WILL, Judge. BERNARD M. DECKER, Judge. EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE.

Castle, Senior Circuit Judge, Swygert, Circuit Judge, and Wyzanski, Senior District Judge.*fn1 Wyzanski, Senior District Judge, concurring. Castle, Senior Circuit Judge, dissenting in part.

Author: Swygert

SWYGERT, Circuit Judge.

The question posed by this appeal is whether the "no-comment" rules of the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois deprive lawyers of their free speech rights under the First Amendment.

The plaintiffs, Chicago Council of Lawyers and seven members of the Chicago bar, brought this action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief on behalf of themselves and all lawyers who practice before the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. They sought a determination that Rule 1.07 of the District Court's Local Criminal Rules (Appendix A) and Disciplinary Rule 7-107 of the American Bar Association's Code of Professional Responsibility (Appendix B) (which the District Court assumed arguendo was incorporated within Local General Rule 8)*fn2 are unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The named defendants are the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, the Marshal for the District Court, and the Clerk of the District Court, all of whom are alleged to participate in the enforcement of these rules.*fn3 The intervening defendants are attorneys who regularly engage in the representation of defendants in criminal cases in the Northern District of Illinois. Motions to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action were filed on behalf of the defendants and granted by the district judges comprising the Executive Committee of the District Court. The reasons given for the judges' action were incorporated in a "Memorandum and Order" which appears at 371 F. Supp. 689 (N.D. Ill. 1974).


The plaintiffs contend that the "no-comment" rules unconstitutionally restrict lawyers' rights to comment publicly on pending litigation and to hear and read such public comment by other lawyers because the rules are not restricted to situations which present a "clear and present danger of a serious and imminent threat to the administration of justice." They argue that lawyers are entitled to full First Amendment rights and that the "reasonable likelihood of interference with a fair trial" standard employed by these rules is unconstitutional. Collaterally, the plaintiffs contend that many of the rules are constitutionally infirm because they are either vague or overbroad or both. Before discussing the separate rules, some general comments are in order.

Plaintiffs say that they do not ask constitutional protection for comment on litigation that " in fact affects or poses a clear and present danger to the administration of justice" or " in fact constitutes a serious and imminent threat to the administration of justice." They acknowledge the right of courts to protect their trials and to take all reasonable means to ensure a fair trial to every litigant. The plaintiffs argue that fair trials are not in issue because they "do not seek to protect lawyers' comments that actually impair the ability of the trial court to afford fair trials." Finally, they maintain that there is no need to "balance" the First Amendment rights of lawyers against litigants' due process rights to fair trials since these two rights do not compete.

We are not as sanguine as plaintiffs that there is no competition or conflict between the right of lawyers to free speech and the right of litigants to fair trials. If by noncompetition they mean that from an ideal or abstract view the two rights can and should coexist without disharmony, we might agree; however, pragmatically, in everyday situations there are bound to be conflicts. Consequently, when irreconcilable conflicts do arise, the right to a fair trial, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to criminal defendants and to all persons by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, must take precedence over the right to make comments about pending litigation by lawyers who are associated with that litigation if such comments are apt to seriously threaten the integrity of the judicial process. We do not understand the plaintiffs to take a contrary position. That courts have the duty to ensure fair trials - "the most fundamental of all freedoms"*fn4 - is beyond question. The Supreme Court made this clear in Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 16 L. Ed. 2d 600, 86 S. Ct. 1507 (1966). Moreover, the Court in that case settled the corollary proposition that courts have the power to "take such steps by rule and regulation that will protect their processes from prejudicial outside interferences." 384 U.S. at 363.

The statement of these general propositions leads us a step further to a solution of the issue raised in this appeal. Since the right of free speech must give way to the right of a fair trial when there is an irreconcilable conflict, the next inquiry relates to the limits of the circumscription on comment that lawyers can be required to observe consistent with their rights under the First Amendment.

A preliminary issue that should be addressed is whether we are to evaluate such rules as "prior restraints." A restriction deemed a prior restraint may not be per se unconstitutional, but it does come before us "with a 'heavy presumption' against its constitutional validity." Organization for a Better Austin v. Keefe, 402 U.S. 415, 419, 29 L. Ed. 2d 1, 91 S. Ct. 1575 (1971). It is important to note, however, Mr. Justice Frankfurter's admonition that the phrase "prior restraint" not be deemed a "self-wielding sword" nor a "talismanic test." Kingsley Books, Inc. v. Brown, 354 U.S. 436, 441, 1 L. Ed. 2d 1469, 77 S. Ct. 1325 (1957). Our case presents a perfect example of a situation in which the meaning behind the phrase should be examined. Admittedly, the rules in question have some elements similar to that which we have traditionally termed "prior restraints." A violation of the rules can be punished by the contempt power just like a failure to obey an injunction. The full criminal procedural safeguards, including the right to trial by jury, would not necessarily be available. Punishment by contempt is an important attribute of a "prior restraint" that distinguishes it from a criminal statute that forbids a certain type of expression.

But in an equally important aspect these rules differ from a "prior restraint." Normally a "prior restraint" constitutes a predetermined judicial prohibition restraining specified expression and it cannot be violated even though the judicial action is unconstitutional if opportunities for appeal existed and were ignored. See Walker v. City of Birmingham, 388 U.S. 307, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1210, 87 S. Ct. 1824 (1967). The validity of court rules, however, can be challenged by one prosecuted for violating them since we have held that there is a fundamental distinction in this regard between actions taken by the court in its legislative role and those taken in its adjudicative role. In re Oliver, 452 F.2d 111 (7th Cir. 1971).

The conclusion we reach from this analysis is that we cannot label the no-comment rules as "prior restraints" given the connotations of that term, but we do recognize that these rules have some of the inherent features of "prior restraints" which have caused the judiciary to review them with particular care. Thus, while we do not begin our examination with a "heavy presumption" against validity, we are aware of the fact that these court rules must endure even closer scrutiny than a legislative restriction.

This scrutiny centers on certain constitutional standards relating to clearness, precision, and narrowness. Rules which deny a lawyer his First Amendment rights in the interest of a fair trial must be neither vague nor overbroad. As the Supreme Court said in Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 109, 33 L. Ed. 2d 222, 92 S. Ct. 2294 (1972):

Where a vague statute "abut[s] upon sensitive areas of basic First Amendment freedoms," it "operates to inhibit the exercise of [those] freedoms." Uncertain meanings inevitably lead citizens to "'steer far wider of the unlawful zone' . . . than if the boundaries of the forbidden areas were clearly marked." (footnotes omitted).

In Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 488, 5 L. Ed. 2d 231, 81 S. Ct. 247 (1960), the Supreme Court discussed the matter of overbreadth:

In a series of decisions this Court has held that, even though the governmental purpose be legitimate and substantial, that purpose cannot be pursued by means that broadly stifle fundamental personal liberties when the end can be more narrowly achieved. The breadth of legislative abridgement must be viewed in the light of less drastic means for achieving the same basic purpose. (footnotes omitted).

We should keep in mind that extrajudicial comments which might impair the "orderly and fair administration of justice in a pending case," Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252, 263, 86 L. Ed. 192, 62 S. Ct. 190 (1941), must be measured as other utterances are measured that are proscribed by reason of a countercompelling governmental interest. "The limitation of First Amendment freedoms must be no greater than is necessary or essential to the protection of the particular governmental interest involved." Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 413, 40 L. Ed. 2d 224, 94 S. Ct. 1800 (1974).

Given these constitutional standards for guidance, we must ask: What test should apply to extrajudicial comments of lawyers about a pending proceeding that are apt to affect the fairness of the proceeding and therefore may be curtailed?

We are of the view that the rubric used in the rules under consideration, that lawyers' comments about pending or imminent litigation must be proscribed "if there is a reasonable likelihood that such dissemination will interfere with a fair trial or otherwise prejudice the due administration of justice" is overbroad and therefore does not meet constitutional standards. Instead, we think a narrower and more restrictive standard, the one formulated in Chase v. Robson, 435 F.2d 1059, 1061-62 (7th Cir. 1970), and reaffirmed in In re Oliver, 452 F.2d 111 (7th Cir. 1971), should apply: Only those comments that pose a "serious and imminent threat" of interference with the fair administration of justice can be constitutionally proscribed. Given the objectives of clearness, precision, and narrowness we are of the view that this formulation is more in keeping with the precepts announced by the Supreme Court to which we have alluded than the one used by the local rules of the district court. A lawyer is put on stricter notice if he must gage his intended comments by a test that limits only comments which are a serious and imminent threat of interference with a fair trial than if his statements were governed by the more amorphous phrase: "a reasonable likelihood that such comment will interfere with a fair trial."

We should emphasize at this point, however, that this standard is not constitutionally sufficient by itself. While the application of the standard to these rules can eliminate overbreadth, the specific rules are also necessary in order to avoid vagueness. The rules furnish the context necessary to determine what may constitute a "serious and imminent threat" of interference with the fair administration of justice.


A few further general observations are necessary. The fact that it is the comments of lawyers involved in the litigation that is curtailed is of importance to both sides of the issue. Attorneys' statements are often the source of prejudicial publicity,*fn5 especially since their views and comments are usually accepted by the public on the basis that they come from a wellspring of reliable information. Restricting such comment can be a significant aid in controlling publicity which may affect the fairness of a trial. Thus, these rules might be viewed as the "least burdensome alternative" if a partial solution to the problem is accomplished by prohibiting only the speech of a very small group whose members are officers of the court with a special interest in protecting the integrity of our system of justice. Yet, there are important countervailing factors. Since lawyers are considered credible in regard to pending litigation in which they are engaged and are in one of the most knowledgeable positions, they are a crucial source of information and opinion. Often their clients will not be as articulate or informed. And despite our primary focus on prejudicial statements, we must keep in mind that there are important areas of public concern connected with current litigation. We can note that lawyers involved in investigations or trials often are in a position to act as a check on government by exposing abuses or urging action. It is not sufficient to argue that such comment can always be made later since immediate action might be necessary and it is only when the litigation is pending and current news that the public's attention can be commanded.

The barring of comment by lawyers representing criminal defendants may seem questionable for a variety of other reasons. The Sixth Amendment speaks only of the right of an accused and the Fifth Amendment only of the right of persons and not of the Government. The publicized fact that a person is under investigation or is charged with the commission of a crime makes it difficult for the person involved to counter any injury to himself, his family, or friends caused by the publicity if his attorney is allowed only to say without elaboration that his client maintains his innocence. Under the no-comment rules, the lawyer, who usually is more articulate and more knowledgeable in the law than the accused, can perhaps best speak about such matters as defenses or the reputation of the accused as a law-abiding citizen. Only slight reflection is needed to realize that the scales of justice in the eyes of the public are weighed extraordinarily heavy against an accused after his indictment. A bare denial and a possible reminder that a charged person is presumed to be innocent until proved guilty is often insufficient to balance the scales.

Regardless of these considerations and our disquietude that may be sensed, we nonetheless believe that certain proscriptions on speech can constitutionally be invoked against defense counsel. We must not forget that public justice is no less important than an accused's right to a fair trial. The Reardon Committee drew no difference between the prosecutor and defense counsel when discussing its recommendations relating to the conduct of attorneys.*fn6

Finally, and more important, we are mandated by Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 363, 16 L. Ed. 2d 600, 86 S. Ct. 1507 (1966), to acknowledge that rules adopted by courts relating to attorneys' conduct and the protection of fair judicial proceedings should cut both ways:

The courts must take such steps by rule and regulation that will protect their processes from prejudicial outside interferences. Neither prosecutors, counsel for defense, the accused, witnesses, court staff nor enforcement officers coming under the jurisdiction of the court should be permitted to frustrate its function. Collaboration between counsel and the press as to information affecting the fairness of a criminal trial is not only subject to regulation, but is highly censurable and worthy of disciplinary measures. 384 U.S. at 363.


These rules as they now read are, in our opinion, constitutionally infirm. This general infirmity results from a failure to specifically incorporate within each provision the serious and imminent threat standard. We do not believe that there can be a blanket prohibition on certain areas of comment - a per se proscription - without any consideration of whether the particular statement posed a serious and imminent threat of interference with a fair trial. Yet these rules establish such a blanket prohibition whereby even a trivial, totally innocuous statement could be a violation. The First Amendment does not allow this broad a sweep.

Still, we think there is a place and need for specific provisions in properly drawn rules. Lawyers must be aware of exactly what areas of speech might pose a serious and imminent threat of interference with a fair trial. The serious and imminent standard must always be an element of any prohibition.*fn7 We think that it is proper to formulate rules which would declare that comment concerning certain matters will presumptively be deemed a serious and imminent threat to the fair administration of justice so as to justify a prohibition against them. One charged with violating such a rule would of course have the opportunity to prove that his statement was not one that posed such a serious and imminent threat, but the burden would be upon him.

We find that with the inclusion of a generally applicable serious and imminent threat standard, many of the challenged rules could be considered as rules establishing such a presumption. Of course, allowing this type of presumption is itself a serious limitation of free speech. Each provision of these rules must be examined to determine whether the particular restrictive presumption is a proper basis for such a limitation.


We proceed then to the specific rules, examining first the no-comment rules relating to criminal matters. Most of the literature*fn8 and debate have centered on the problem of prejudicial publicity in criminal trials. As we have previously noted, the Supreme Court set the stage for court rules in this area by its observations in Sheppard v. Maxwell.

Local Rule 1.07 was in substantial part drawn verbatim from the suggested rules of the Kaufman Report which was prepared by twelve federal judges and ultimately adopted by the Judicial Conference of the United States. We think it is our duty, however, to examine the specific recommendations of this prestigious committee for it was acting in a legislative rather than an adjudicatory capacity. See In re Oliver, 452 F.2d 111 (7th Cir. 1971). With deference, we must dissect the rules and subject them to constitutional scrutiny.

The rules*fn9 pertaining to comment relative to criminal matters are divided according to the different stages of the criminal process. Rule 1.07(b) and DR 7-107(A) proscribe statements*fn10 during the investigative stages. These prohibitions are quite restrictive, but this is an unusual time frame in the prosecutorial process. While no one will have been formally charged with a crime, there may be great interest in the news media in the subject of the investigation. With new developments constantly occurring the potential for prejudicial publicity is considerable. Moreover, since there are no formal court proceedings pending there is no opportunity to obtain a specific pretrial order limiting out-of-court statements. We can at least note that the mere statement that a particular individual is the subject of a grand jury investigation can have serious ramifications. The secrecy of grand jury proceedings must be strictly maintained.

Regardless of these considerations, there are serious problems with this section of the rules. The phrase "participating in or associated with the investigation" is ambiguous when applied to lawyers other than prosecutors. Does it cover attorneys representing witnesses before a grand jury? What about attorneys for individuals or corporations who are rumored to be the subject of an investigation? How much interchange with the prosecutors need they have before they become "associated with the investigation"? We cannot tell and neither could the conscientious attorney trying to determine if he could speak on behalf of his client. Indeed, the rules do not even allow a statement that the individual in question denies any involvement in any criminal activity. Nor may the attorney publicly charge an abuse of the grand jury proceedings. The investigatory stage is not actually a part of the judicial process. The discretion is placed in the executive - the prosecutor. An important check on his use of that discretion is the political process. It is imperative that we allow as much public discussion as feasible about the way in which this authority is being exercised. The scope and purpose of an investigation is a legitimate subject for public concern and comment. Those in the best position to inform the public on that issue should be free to do so.

The section under discussion is too vague in terms of its application to attorneys other than those involved on behalf of the Government. More important, the restrictions are too broad for the benefit that may be derived. No one knows at that stage if a prosecution will develop and if there will be a trial that must be protected. It is unlikely that an attorney would attempt a "newspaper defense" of charges that have not been formally lodged. The possibility of prejudice to the Government's case, which has not even been presented by indictment or information, is too remote in view of the countervailing interests to justify these restrictions on nonprosecution attorneys.

Those attorneys involved in the investigation for the Government are in a different position. They have the ability to influence and ensure proper governmental procedure without resort to public opinion. Moreover, they know what charges may be brought and are a prime source of damaging statements. Admittedly, our formulation may place prosecutors in a difficult position since they may be criticized for a particular investigation but may not publicly respond. This is a situation that competing interests necessitate. Ultimately the prosecutor's response will come in the form of an indictment or information or else the investigation will have ended and his speech will be unrestricted. We conclude that Rule 1.07(b) and DR 7-107(A) could be used as a presumption of a serious and imminent threat, but only as to attorneys associated with the investigation on behalf of the Government.


Local Rule 1.07(c) and DR 7-107(B) and (C) regulate comments by attorneys during the time from arrest or the filing of charges to commencement of trial or disposition without trial. Comments on six subjects are prohibited. Some general views concerning all six are necessary. There are areas in which "legitimate" reasons exist for attorneys' comment during a criminal case. The most important of these is in regard to an attorney's opinions and arguments about the unconstitutionality or injustice of a statute or rule. During the course of a criminal proceeding an attorney would be in a unique position to examine and criticize such legislation. Again there is the importance of the time factor in terms of gaining the public's attention. Ideally, we would want such views expressed in the abstract without reference to the particular case that is pending. Practically, it may not always be possible to differentiate the two. Still, we should recognize the importance of such criticism.

Other types of comment deserve mention. The particulars of a case might be deemed a necessary subject of public commentary in certain instances. As we said earlier, there is a societal interest in having the discretion of the prosecutor's office reviewed.*fn11 This interest still exists after the presentation of formal charges, but the countervailing factors are different. The possibility of prejudice is more concrete. There is also an interest in preventing the appearance that the merits of a particular pending prosecution are being tried in the press. A formal controversy that should be settled by the courts is in existence. The balance swings more toward the necessity of prohibiting certain speech at this stage in the criminal judicial process.

One final reason a conscientious attorney might wish "to take his case to the public" is to solicit defense funds. This type of solicitation is a legitimate function. But again it is countered by the factors just discussed. Moreover, our present judicial system has its own solutions for the problem of the defendant without funds.

Cognizant of these considerations, the specifics of DR 7-107(B) can be examined. The provisions of DR 7-107(C) which relate to what may be announced are irrelevant to our discussion except insofar as they limit the restrictions of DR 7-107(B).*fn12 ...

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