Tennessee Senate Measure would Ban Lawyers from Impaired Driving Ads

April 24, 2008

Tennessee defense attorneys would be banned from advertising their expertise with drunken driving cases under a bill advancing in the Senate.

Sen. Rosalind Kurita, a Clarksville Democrat, successfully added the provision to a bill on April 22 that would create an online registry of repeat DUI offenders in Tennessee. The measure is now headed for a full Senate vote.

Kurita said officials have a hard enough time convicting drunken drivers without lawyers advertising their expertise in the field – and offering discounts to DUI defendants.

Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle, a Memphis attorney, argued that Kurita’s proposal would violate commercial free speech rights.

“What is so un-American about someone charged with a crime to be able to find an attorney who can represent them?” Kyle said. “Is there any basis that we can constitutionally tell someone they can’t advertise what they’re doing, if what they’re doing is legal?”

Kyle said that as long as lawyers are meeting ethical standards set by the Tennessee Bar Association they should be allowed to advertise their legal qualifications.

Bar association Executive Director Allan Ramsaur said there are already strict rules about lawyers’ advertisements. “So we do not need this,” he said about Kurita’s proposal.

Kurita and other members of the Senate Finance Committee argued that the bar association does not officially certify expertise in DUI defense, so lawyers shouldn’t be able to bill themselves as experts.

“The issue is misrepresenting that there is such as thing as specializing in DUI defense,” Kurita said.

But Ramsaur said in an interview the bar association does certify specialization for DUI defenders and for criminal defenders, although few lawyers go through that process.

Lawyers can advertise their practice areas without saying they are certified specialists.

Kyle said he will ask the state attorney general for a legal opinion on the matter.

Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville and sponsor of the DUI registry bill, said he doesn’t believe Kurita’s amendment is unconstitutional. But he added a provision to drop the proposal from the bill if it’s found to be illegal.

“What hacks me off is somebody who says ‘I’m going to get you off,”‘ Burchett said.

Burchett’s DUI registry would publicize the names of multiple offenders up to within 45 days of having their driver’s licenses restored.

The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the House Finance Committee.

Read SB3439 on the General Assembly’s Web site at: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us

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