Arkansas high court rejects attorney’s challenge to professional rules

Friday, December 22, 2000

Arkansas Supreme Court rules that authorize the suspension of an
attorney pending disbarment proceedings do not violate the First Amendment, the
state high court has ruled.

In April 1997, the federal government indicted attorney Mark Cambiano
on 31 counts of various offenses including money laundering. Cambiano pled
guilty to one count of filing a false currency-transaction report in exchange
for the government’s dropping the other counts.

In February 1999, the Arkansas state bar sought to disbar Cambiano
based on his guilty plea and other allegations in the federal indictment. The
bar, acting under section 7 of the state Supreme Court’s attorney-conduct
rules, temporarily suspended Cambiano from practicing law pending the outcome
of the disbarment proceedings.

After the state bar filed its motion to disbar Cambiano, he
countersued and alleged that the state bar rules providing for temporary
suspensions violated his constitutional rights.

He alleged that the temporary suspension violated his First Amendment
free-speech and free-association rights because he was not allowed to work for
or discuss legal matters with other attorneys even if he had no clients.

After the state trial court rejected his counterclaim, Cambiano
appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

On Dec. 15, the state high court ruled in Cambiano v. Neal that the
professional-responsibility rule allowing for temporary suspensions pending
disbarment proceedings was constitutional.

Cambiano alleged that the rule was unconstitutional in part because it
infringed on his rights to engage in political speech. The state bar countered
that Cambiano’s speech was more akin to commercial speech, which receives
less First Amendment protection.

“Section 7 does not prevent an attorney from making ‘political’
speech,” the state high court wrote. “Instead, it prevents an attorney from
aiding a client, with or without compensation, which is ‘commercial’

Cambiano argued that providing legal advice to another lawyer on how
to litigate death-penalty cases is political speech. However, the state high
court sided with the state bar in characterizing such speech as

The court concluded: “The rule does not prohibit Cambiano from using
available public forums to state positions opposing the death penalty. However,
to provide specific legal advice to an attorney who is handling a death-penalty
case would violate his suspension.”

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