This week, in the interest of protecting the sanctity of the attorney-client relationship and safeguarding the constitutional right of lawyers to advocate on behalf of their clients, the Boston Bar Association (BBA) filed an amicus brief opposing the government’s motion to disqualify defense counsel in U.S. v. Brian Joyce.
In February, the government moved to disqualify Joyce’s defense counsel, who represented Joyce prior to his indictment on various corruption and racketeering charges and submitted answers to the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission in an investigation of Joyce’s potential misconduct. The government argues that the information submitted to the Ethics Commission was false, but acknowledged that it had no evidence that defense counsel knew the information was false when submitted.
This motion to disqualify has raised serious concerns not only from the defense bar but across the legal community, and the BBA brief echoes these concerns, asserting that the government’s motion to disqualify counsel should be denied on both Sixth Amendment and First Amendment grounds. If granted, such a motion could endanger the rights of all criminal defendants to freely share information with an attorney, the attorney’s ability to make statements on the client’s behalf, and the expectation that an attorney will be able to represent their client through the entirety of their criminal justice proceedings.
The BBA has a long history of speaking out on the import of the right to counsel guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment and against actions that would risk interfering with the attorney-client relationship, which is being briefed in full by both defendants and other amici. A brief filed by the Massachusetts Academy of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Massachusetts Bar Association, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and others expounds on the Sixth Amendment arguments. Our brief acknowledges these concerns and hones in on another important issue: the First Amendment rights at stake. We assert that the disqualification of defense counsel in this case would unjustifiably restrict the right of all attorneys to petition the government and to speak publicly on behalf of clients, which is protected under the First Amendment.
“We believe the government’s motion threatens the constitutionally protected right of a lawyer to present a client’s defense to courts and to government agencies,” Jon Albano, President-Elect of the Boston Bar Association and author of the BBA’s amicus brief, said. “A lawyer should not be disqualified for presenting a client’s side of a case when there is no evidence that the lawyer knew the client was not telling the truth.”
For decades, the BBA has weighed in on a number of cases relating to these issues, most recently in our amicus brief in Commonwealth v. Wade, in which we argued that the defendant’s trial attorney could not be compelled to testify and reveal privileged information shared by the defendant. While the circumstances of the cases differ, any threat to the sanctity of attorney-client privilege compels the BBA to speak out in defense of this fundamental principal to our justice system.