A link to a CNN story is at the end of this post.
Kenneth Lewis has been in trouble for this type of thing before. However, he has not been dismissed permanently from his job.
Although the First Amendment guarantees free speech within reason, attorneys damage the integrity of their work by expressing prejudice against any segment of society. A bigoted comment from a lawyer is a potential problem in the courtroom and anyplace else he/she represents clients — in Mr. Lewis’s case, the State Of Florida.
Disclosure: A male lawyer who hates women was responsible for defrauding my parents and preventing me from inheriting their estate. So, I have my own agenda where bigoted lawyers are concerned. Go wherever you want with that.
Many years ago (early 1980s, I think), an attorney with a Bay Area Public Defender’s Office made a homophobic statement to a newspaper reporter. The remark wasn’t for a news story, although his statement soon became the subject of a news story. He was quoted in a lightweight San Francisco Chronicle feature called Question Man, in which a Chronicle employee visited sites in the Bay Area and chose people at random to comment on miscellaneous issues.
I don’t recall the question asked that day. However, the lawyer with the Public Defender’s Office was quoted as saying gays were making San Francisco weird.
Very soon after that, the lawyer was dismissed (or persuaded to resign. I don’t recall the details). I remember one acquaintance of mine saying the lawyer’s First Amendment rights had been violated. I was frozen, and didn’t know how to articulate an answer to that.
Later — maybe days later — I tried to explain to him that the lawyer’s remark suggested gay clients may not get fair representation from him. That acquaintance tried to shout me down, and the disagreement escalated from there.
There could be a “slippery slope” involved in states actually disbarring attorneys who express their biases outside of the workplace. However, when those lawyers work for public or private agencies, their employers must consider how remarks outside the workplace affect the agency’s integrity.
We can be realistic and say the most discreet bigots have potential for causing the most harm because they aren’t being scrutinized as closely. Often, a discreet bigot is a better schemer than someone who is quick with an insult, so a vicious agenda can go unnoticed for a long time — maybe permanently.
That said, we should not underestimate the damage to our legal system — and the public — when a professional who is handling life-changing issues acts on negative generalizations. When bias becomes clear (with or without proof that it’s affecting legal cases), any attorney who is not self-employed should be out of a job.