Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada (89-1836), 501 U.S. 1030 (1991)
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No. 89-1836


[June 27, 1991]

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to parts I and II, and delivered a dissenting opinion with respect to part III in which Justice White, Justice Scalia, and Justice Souter have joined.

Petitioner was disciplined for making statements to the press about a pending case in which he represented a criminal defendant. The State Bar, and the Supreme Court of Nevada on review, found that petitioner knew or should have known that there was a substantial likelihood that his statements would materially prejudice the trial of his client. Nonetheless, petitioner contends that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution requires a stricter standard to be met before such speech by an attorney may be disciplined: there must be a finding of "actual prejudice or a substantial and imminent threat to fair trial." Brief for Petitioner 15. We conclude that the "substantial likelihood of material prejudice" standard applied by Nevada and most other states satisfies the First Amendment.


Petitioner's client was the subject of a highly publicized case, and in response to adverse publicity about his client, Gentile held a press conference on the day after Sanders was indicted. At the press conference, petitioner made, among others, the following statements:

"When this case goes to trial, and as it develops, you're going to see that the evidence will prove not only that Grady Sanders is an innocent person and had nothing to do with any of the charges that are being leveled against him, but that the person that was in the most direct position to have stolen the drugs and the money, the American Express Travelers' checks, is Detective Steve Scholl.

"There is far more evidence that will establish that Detective Scholl took these drugs and took these American Express Travelers' checks than any other living human being."

". . . the so-called other victims, as I sit here today I can tell you that one, two — four of them are known drug dealers and convicted money launderers and drug dealers; three of whom didn't say a word about anything until after they were approached by Metro and after they were already in trouble and are trying to work themselves out of something.

"Now, up until the moment, of course, that they started going along with what detectives from Metro wanted them to say, these people were being held out as being incredible and liars by the very same people who are going to say now that you can believe them." App. 27-28.

The following statements were in response to questions from members of the press:

" . . . because of the stigma that attaches to merely being accused — okay — I know I represent an innocent man . . . . The last time I had a conference with you, was with a client and I let him talk to you and I told you that that case would be dismissed and it was. Okay?

"I don't take cheap shots like this. I represent an innocent guy. All right?

"[The police] were playing very fast and loose. . . . We've got some video tapes that if you take a look at them, I'll tell you what, [Detective Scholl] either had a hell of a cold or he should have seen a better doctor." Id., at 28.

Articles appeared in the local newspapers describing the press conference and petitioner's statements. The trial took place approximately six months later, and although the trial court succeeded in empaneling a jury that had not been affected by the media coverage and Sanders was acquitted on all charges, the state bar disciplined petitioner for his statements.

The Southern Nevada Disciplinary Board found that petitioner knew the detective he accused of perpetrating the crime and abusing drugs would be a witness for the prosecution. It also found that petitioner believed others whom he characterized as money launderers and drug dealers would be called as prosecution witnesses. Petitioner's admitted purpose for calling the press conference was to counter public opinion which he perceived as adverse to his client, to fight back against the perceived efforts of the prosecution to poison the prospective juror pool, and to publicly present his client's side of the case. The Board found that in light of the statements, their timing, and petitioner's purpose, petitioner knew or should have known that there was a substantial likelihood that the statements would materially prejudice the Sanders trial.

The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed the Board's decision, finding by clear and convincing evidence that petitioner "knew or reasonably should have known that his comments had a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing the adjudication of his client's case." Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada, 106 Nev. 60, —, 787 P. 2d 386, 387 (1990). The court noted that the case was "highly publicized"; that the press conference, held the day after the indictment and the same day as the arraignment, was "timed to have maximum impact"; and that petitioner's comments "related to the character, credibility, reputation or criminal record of the police detective and other potential witnesses." Ibid. The court concluded that the "absence of actual prejudice does not establish that there was no substantial likelihood of material prejudice." Ibid.


Gentile asserts that the same stringent standard applied in Nebraska Press Assn. v. Stuart, 427 U.S. 539 (1976), to restraints on press publication during the pendency of a criminal trial should be applied to speech by a lawyer whose client is a defendant in a criminal proceeding. In that case, we held that in order to suppress press commentary on evidentiary matters, the state would have to show that "further publicity, unchecked, would so distort the views of potential jurors that 12 could not be found who would, under proper instructions, fulfill their sworn duty to render a just verdict exclusively on the evidence presented in open court." Id., at 569. Respondent, on the other hand, relies on statements in cases such as Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333 (1966), which sharply distinguished between restraints on the press and restraints on lawyers whose clients are parties to the proceeding:

"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." Id., at 363.

To evaluate these opposing contentions, some reference must be made to the history of the regulation of the practice of law by the courts.

In the United States, the courts have historically regulated admission to the practice of law before them, and exercised the authority to discipline and ultimately to disbar lawyers whose conduct departed from prescribed standards. "Membership in the bar is a privilege burdened with conditions," to use the oft-repeated statement of Cardozo, J., in In re Rouss, 221 N. Y. 81, 84 116 N. E. 782, 783 (1917), quoted in Theard v. United States, 354 U.S. 278, 281 (1957).

More than a century ago, the first official code of legal ethics promulgated in this country, the Alabama Code of 1887, warned attorneys to "Avoid Newspaper Discussion of Legal Matters," and stated that "[n]ewspaper publications by an attorney as to the merits of pending or anticipated litigation . . . tend to prevent a fair trial in the courts, and otherwise prejudice the due administration of justice." H. Drinker, Legal Ethics 23, 356 (1953). In 1908, the American Bar Association promulgated its own code, entitled "Canons of Professional Ethics." Many States thereafter adopted the ABA Canons for their own jurisdicitons. Canon 20 stated:

"Newspaper publications by a lawyer as to pending or anticipated litigation may interfere with a fair trial in the Courts and otherwise prejudice the due administration of justice. Generally they are to be condemned. If the extreme circumstances of a particular case justify a statement to the public, it is unprofessional to make it anonymously. An ex parte reference to the facts should not go beyond quotation from the records and papers on file in the court; but even in extreme cases it is better to avoid any ex parte statement."

In the last quarter-century, the legal profession has reviewed its ethical limitations on extrajudicial statements by lawyers in the context of this Court's cases interpreting the First Amendment. ABA Model Rule of Professional Responsibility 3.6 resulted from the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Fair Trial and Free Press (Advisory Committee), created in 1964 upon the recommendation of the Warren Commission. The Warren Commission's report on the assassination of President Kennedy included the recommendation that

"representatives of the bar, law enforcement associations, and the news media work together to establish ethical standards concerning the collection and presentation of information to the public so that there will be no interference with pending criminal investigations, court proceedings, or the right of individuals to a fair trial."

Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy (1964), quoted in Ainsworth, "Fair TrialFree Press," 45 F. R. D. 417 (1968). The Advisory Committee developed the ABA Standards Relating to Fair Trial and Free Press, comprehensive guidelines relating to disclosure of information concerning criminal proceedings, which were relied upon by the ABA in 1968 in formulating Rule 3.6. The need for and appropriateness of such a rule had been identified by this Court two years earlier in Sheppard v. Maxwell, supra, at 362-363. In 1966, the Judicial Conference of the United States authorized a "Special Subcommittee to Implement Sheppard v. Maxwell" to proceed with a study of the necessity of promulgating guidelines or taking other corrective action to shield federal juries from prejudicial publicity. See Report of the Committee on the Operation of the Jury System on the "Free Press-Fair Trial" Issue, 45 F. R. D. 391, 404-407 (1968). Courts, responding to the recommendations in this report, proceeded to enact local rules incorporating these standards, and thus the "reasonable likelihood of prejudicing a fair trial" test was used by a majority of courts, state and federal, in the years following Sheppard. Ten years later, the ABA amended its guidelines, and the "reasonable likelihood" test was changed to a "clear and present danger" test. ABA Standard for Criminal Justice 8-1.1 (as amended 1978) (2d ed. 1980, Supp. 1986).

When the Model Rules of Professional Conduct were drafted in the early 1980's, the drafters did not go as far as the revised fair trial-free press standards in giving precedence to the lawyer's right to make extrajudicial statements when fair trial rights are implicated, and instead adopted the "substantial likelihood of material prejudice" test. Currently, 31 States in addition to Nevada have adopted — either verbatim or with insignificant variations — Rule 3.6 of the ABA's Model Rules. [n.1] Eleven States have adopted Disciplinary Rule 7-107 of the ABA's Code of Professional Responsibility, which is less protective of lawyer speech than Model Rule 3.6, in that it applies a "reasonable likelihood of prejudice" standard. [n.2] Only one State, Virginia, has explicitly adopted a clear and present danger standard, while four States and the District of Columbia have adopted standards that arguably approximate "clear and present danger." [n.3]

Petitioner maintains, however, that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution requires a State, such as Nevada in this case, to demonstrate a "clear and present danger" of "actual prejudice or an imminent threat" before any discipline may be imposed on a lawyer who initiates a press conference such as occurred here. [n.4] He relies on decisions such as Nebraska Press Assn. v. Stuart, 427 U.S. 539 (1976), Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252 (1941), Pennekamp v. Florida, 328 U.S. 331 (1946), and Craig v. Harney, 331 U.S. 367 (1947), to support his position. In those cases we held that trial courts might not constitutionally punish, through use of the contempt power, newspapers and others for publishing editorials, cartoons, and other items critical of judges in particular cases. We held that such punishments could be imposed only if there were a clear and present danger of "some serious substantive evil which they are designed to avert." Bridges v. California, supra, at 270. Petitioner also relies on Wood v. Georgia, 370 U.S. 375 (1962), which held that a court might not punish a sheriff for publicly criticizing a judge's charges to a grand jury.

Respondent State Bar of Nevada points out, on the other hand, that none of these cases involved lawyers who represented parties to a pending proceeding in court. It points to the statement of Holmes, J., in Patterson v. Colorado, 205 U.S. 454, 463 (1907), that "[w]hen a case is finished, courts are subject to the same criticism as other people, but the propriety and necessity of preventing interference with the course of justice by premature statement, argument or in timidation hardly can be denied." Respondent also points to a similar statement in Bridges, supra, at 271:

"The very word `trial' connotes decisions on the evidence and arguments properly advanced in open court. Legal trials are not like elections, to be won through the use of the meeting-hall, the radio, and the newspaper."

These opposing positions illustrate one of the many dilemmas which arise in the course of constitutional adjudication. The above quotes from Patterson and Bridges epitomize the theory upon which our criminal justice system is founded: the outcome of a criminal trial is to be decided by impartial jurors, who know as little as possible of the case, based on material admitted into evidence before them in a court proceeding. Extrajudicial comments on, or discussion of, evidence which might never be admitted at trial and ex parte statements by counsel giving their version of the facts obviously threaten to undermine this basic tenet.

At the same time, however, the criminal justice system exists in a larger context of a government ultimately of the people, who wish to be informed about happenings in the criminal justice system, and, if sufficiently informed about those happenings might wish to make changes in the system. The way most of them acquire information is from the media. The First Amendment protections of speech and press have been held, in the cases cited above, to require a showing of "clear and present danger" that a malfunction in the criminal justice system will be caused before a State may prohibit media speech or publication about a particular pending trial. The question we must answer in this case is whether a lawyer who represents a defendant involved with the criminal justice system may insist on the same standard before he is disciplined for public pronouncements about the case, or whether the State instead may penalize that sort of speech upon a lesser showing.

It is unquestionable that in the courtroom itself, during a judicial proceeding, whatever right to "free speech" an attorney has is extremely circumscribed. An attorney may not, by speech or other conduct, resist a ruling of the trial court beyond the point necessary to preserve a claim for appeal. Sacher v. United States, 343 U.S. 1, 8 (1952) (criminal trial); Fisher v. Pace, 336 U.S. 155 (1949) (civil trial). Even outside the courtroom, a majority of the Court in two separate opinions in the case of In re Sawyer, 360 U.S. 622 (1959), observed that lawyers in pending cases were subject to ethical restrictions on speech to which an ordinary citizen would not be. There, the Court had before it an order affirming the suspension of an attorney from practice because of her attack on the fairness and impartiality of a judge. The plurality opinion, which found the discipline improper, concluded that the comments had not in fact impugned the judge's integrity. Justice Stewart, who provided the fifth vote for reversal of the sanction, said in his separate opinion that he could not join any possible "intimation that a lawyer can invoke the constitutional right of free speech to immunize himself from evenhanded discipline for proven unethical conduct." Id, at 646. He said that "[o]bedience to ethical precepts may require abstention from what in other circumstances might be constitutionally protected speech." Id., at 646-647. The four dissenting Justices who would have sustained the discipline said:

"Of course, a lawyer is a person and he too has a constitutional freedom of utterance and may exercise it to castigate courts and their administration of justice. But a lawyer actively participating in a trial, particularly an emotionally charged criminal prosecution, is not merely a person and not even merely a lawyer.

. . . . .

"He is an intimate and trusted and essential part of the machinery of justice, an `officer of the court' in the most compelling sense." Id., at 666, 668 (Frankfurter, J., dissenting, joined by Clark, Harlan, and Whittaker, JJ.).

Likewise, in Sheppard v. Maxwell, where the defendant's conviction was overturned because extensive prejudicial pretrial publicity had denied the defendant a fair trial, we held that a new trial was a remedy for such publicity, but

"we must remember that reversals are but palliatives; the cure lies in those remedial measures that will prevent the prejudice at its inception. 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 (emphasis added).

We expressly contemplated that the speech of those participating before the courts could be limited. [n.5] This distinction between participants in the litigation and strangers to it is brought into sharp relief by our holding in Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinehart, 467 U.S. 20 (1984). There, we unanimously held that a newspaper, which was itself a defendant in a libel action, could be restrained from publishing material about the plaintiffs and their supporters to which it had gained accessthrough court-ordered discovery. In that case we said that "[a]lthough litigants do not `surrender their First Amendment rights at the courthouse door,' those rights may be subordinated to other interests that arise in this setting," id., at 32-33, n. 18 (citation omitted), and noted that "on several occasions [we have] approved restriction on the communications of trial participants where necessary to ensure a fair trial for a criminal defendant." Ibid.

Even in an area far from the courtroom and the pendency of a case, our decisions dealing with a lawyer's right under the First Amendment to solicit business and advertise, contrary to promulgated rules of ethics, have not suggested that lawyers are protected by the First Amendment to the same extent as those engaged in other businesses. See, e. g., Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977); Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Comm'n of Illinois, 496 U. S. — (1990); Ohralik v. Ohio State Bar Assn., 436 U.S. 447 (1978). In each of these cases, we engaged in a balancing process, weighing the State's interest in the regulation of a specialized profession against a lawyer's First Amendment interest in the kind of speech that was at issue. These cases recognize the long-established principle stated in In re Cohen, 7 N. Y. 2nd 488, 495, 166 N. E. 2d 672, 675 (1960):

"Appellant as a citizen could not be denied any of the common rights of citizens. But he stood before the inquiry and before the Appellate Division in another quite different capacity, also. As a lawyer he was `an officer of the court, and, like the court itself, an instrument . . . of justice . . . .' " (Quoted in Cohen v. Hurley, 366 U.S. 117, 126 (1961)).

We think that the quoted statements from our opinions in In re Sawyer, 360 U.S. 622 (1959), and Sheppard v. Maxwell, supra, rather plainly indicate that the speech of lawyers representing clients in pending cases may be regulated under a less demanding standard than that established for regulation of the press in Nebraska Press Assn. v. Stuart, 427 U.S. 539 (1976), and the cases which preceded it. Lawyers representing clients in pending cases are key participants in the criminal justice system, and the State may demand some adherence to the precepts of that system in regulating their speech as well as their conduct. As noted by Justice Brennan in his concurring opinion in Nebraska Press, which was joined by Justices Stewart and Marshall, "[a]s officers of the court, court personnel and attorneys have a fiduciary responsibility not to engage in public debate that will redound to the detriment of the accused or that will obstruct the fair administration of justice." 427 U. S., at 601, n. 27. Because lawyers have special access to information through discovery and client communications, their extrajudicial statements pose a threat to the fairness of a pending proceeding since lawyers' statements are likely to be received as especially authoritative. See, e. g., In re Hinds, 90 N. J. 604, 627, 449 A. 2d 483, 496 (1982) (statements by attorneys of record relating to the case "are likely to be considered knowledgeable, reliable and true" because of attorneys' unique access to information); In re Rachmiel, 90 N. J. 646, 656, 449 A. 2d 505, 511 (N. J. 1982) (attorneys' role as advocates gives them "extraordinary power to undermine or destroy the efficacy of the criminal justice system"). We agree with the majority of the States that the "substantial likelihood of material prejudice" standard constitutes a constitutionally permissible balance between the First Amendment rights of attorneys in pending cases and the state's interest in fair trials.

When a state regulation implicates First Amendment rights, the Court must balance those interests against the State's legitimate interest in regulating the activity in question. See, e. g., Seattle Times, supra, at 32. The "substantial likelihood" test embodied in Rule 177 is constitutional under this analysis, for it is designed to protect the integrity and fairness of a state's judicial system, and it imposes only narrow and necessary limitations on lawyers' speech. The limitations are aimed at two principal evils: (1) comments that are likely to influence the actual outcome of the trial, and (2) comments that are likely to prejudice the jury venire, even if an untainted panel can ultimately be found. Few, if any, interests under the Constitution are more fundamental than the right to a fair trial by "impartial" jurors, and an outcome affected by extrajudicial statements would violate that fundamental right. See, e. g., Sheppard, 384 U. S., at 350-351; Turner v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 466, 473 (1965) (evidence in criminal trial must come solely from witness stand in public courtroom with full evidentiary protections). Even if a fair trial can ultimately be ensured through voir dire, change of venue, or some other device, these measures entail serious costs to the system. Extensive voir dire may not be able to filter out all of the effects of pretrial publicity, and with increasingly widespread media coverage of criminal trials, a change of venue may not suffice to undo the effects of statements such as those made by petitioner. The State has a substantial interest in preventing officers of the court, such as lawyers, from imposing such costs on the judicial system and on the litigants.

The restraint on speech is narrowly tailored to achieve those objectives. The regulation of attorneys' speech is limited — it applies only to speech that is substantially likely to have a materially prejudicial effect; it is neutral as to points of view, applying equally to all attorneys' participating in a pending case; and it merely postpones the attorney's comments until after the trial. While supported by the substantial state interest in preventing prejudice to an adjudicative proceeding by those who have a duty to protect its integrity, the rule is limited on its face to preventing only speech having a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing that proceeding.


To assist a lawyer in deciding whether an extrajudicial statement is problematic, Rule 177 sets out statements that are likely to cause material prejudice. Contrary to petitioner's contention, these are not improper evidentiary presumptions. Model Rule 3.6, from which Rule 177 was derived, was specifically designed to avoid the categorical prohibitions of attorney speech contained in ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility Disciplinary Rule 7-107 (1981). See ABA Commission on Evaluation of Professional Standards, Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Notes and Comments 143-144 (Proposed Final Draft, May 30, 1981) (Proposed Final Draft). The statements listed as likely to cause material prejudice closely track a similar list outlined by this Court in Sheppard:

"The fact that many of the prejudicial news items can be traced to the prosecution, as well as the defense, aggravates the judge's failure to take any action. . . . Effective control of these sources — concededly within the court's power — might well have prevented the divulgence of inaccurate information, rumors, and accusations that made up much of the inflammatory publicity . . . .

"More specifically, the trial court might well have proscribed extrajudicial statements by any lawyer, party, witness, or court official which divulged prejudicial matters, such as the refusal of Sheppard to submit to interrogation or take any lie detector tests; any statement made by Sheppard to officials; the identity of prospective witnesses or their probable testimony; any belief in guilt or innocence; or like statements concerning the merits of the case. See State v. Van Dyne, 43 N. J. 369, 389 204 A. 2d 841, 852 (1964), in which the court interpreted Canon 20 of the American Bar Association's Canons of Professional Ethics to prohibit such statements." 384 U. S., at 361.

Gentile claims that Rule 177 is overbroad, and thus unconstitutional on its face, because it applies to more speech than is necessary to serve the State's goals. The "overbreadth" doctrine applies if an enactment "prohibits constitutionally protected conduct." Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 114 (1972). To be unconstitutional, overbreadth must be "substantial." Board of Trustees of State University of New York v. Fox, 492 U.S. 469, 485 (1989). Rule 177 is no broader than necessary to protect the State's interests. It applies only to lawyers involved in the pending case at issue, and even those lawyers involved in pending cases can make extrajudicial statements as long as such statements do not present a substantial risk of material prejudice to an adjudicative proceeding. The fact that Rule 177 applies to bench trials does not make it overbroad, for a substantial likelihood of prejudice is still required before the Rule is violated. That test will rarely be met where the judge is the trier of fact, since trial judges often have access to inadmissible and highly prejudicial information and are presumed to be able to discount or disregard it. For these reasons Rule 177 is constitutional on its face.

Gentile also argues that Rule 177 is void for vagueness because it did not provide adequate notice that his comments were subject to discipline. The void-for-vagueness doctrine is concerned with a defendant's right to fair notice and adequate warning that his conduct runs afoul of the law. See, e. g., Smith v. Goguen, 415 U.S. 566, 572-573 (1974); Colten v. Kentucky, 407 U.S. 104, 110 (1972). Rule 177 was drafted with the intent to provide "an illustrative compilation that gives fair notice of conduct ordinarily posing unacceptable dangers to the fair administration of justice." Proposed Final Draft 143. The Rule provides sufficient notice of the nature of the prohibited conduct. Under the circumstances of his case, petitioner cannot complain about lack of notice, as he has admitted that his primary objective in holding the press conference was the violation of Rule 177's core prohibition — to prejudice the upcoming trial by influencing potential jurors. Petitioner was clearly given notice that such conduct was forbidden, and the list of conduct likely to cause prejudice, while only advisory, certainly gave notice that the statements made would violate the rule if they had the intended effect.

The majority agrees with petitioner that he was the victim of unconstitutional vagueness in the regulations because of the relationship between 3 and 1 and 2 of rule 177 (see infra, p. 3-4). Section 3 allows an attorney to state "the general nature of the claim or defense" notwithstanding the prohibition contained in 1 and the examples contained in 2. It is of course true, as the majority points out, that the word "general" and the word "elaboration" are both terms of degree. But combined as they are in the first sentence of 3, they convey the very definite proposition that the authorized statements must not contain the sort of detailed allegations that petitioner made at his press conference. No sensible person could think that the following were "general" statements of a claim or defense made "without elaboration": "the person that was in the most direct position to have stolen the drugs and the money . . . is Detective Steve Scholl"; "there is far more evidence that will establish that Detective Scholl took these drugs and took these American Express travelers' checks than any other living human being"; "[Detective Scholl] either had a hell of a cold, or he should have seen a better doctor"; and "the so-called other victims . . . one, two — four of them are known drug dealers and convicted money launderers." 3, as an exception to the provisions of 1 and 2, must be read in the light of the prohibitions and examples contained in the first two sections. It was obviously not intended to negate the prohibitions or the examples wholesale, but simply intended to provide a "safe harbor" where there might be doubt as to whether one of the examples covered proposed conduct. These provisions were not vague as to the conduct for which petitioner was disciplined; "[i]n determining the sufficiency of the notice a statute must of necessity be examined in the light of the conduct with which a defendant is charged." United States v. National Dairy Products Corp., 372 U.S. 29, 33 (1963).

Petitioner's strongest arguments are that the statement was made well in advance of trial, and that the statements did not in fact taint the jury panel. But the Supreme Court of Nevada pointed out that petitioner's statements were not only highly inflammatory — they portrayed prospective government witnesses as drug users and dealers, and as money launderers — but the statements were timed to have maximum impact, when public interest in the case was at its height immediately after Sanders was indicted. Reviewing independently the entire record, see Pennekamp v. Florida, 328 U.S. 331, 335 (1946), we are convinced that petitioner's statements were "substantially likely to cause material prejudice" to the proceedings. While there is evidence pro and con on that point, we find it persuasive that, by his own admission, petitioner called the press conference for the express purpose of influencing the venire. It is difficult to believe that he went to such trouble, and took such a risk, if there was no substantial likelihood that he would succeed.

While in a case such as this we must review the record for ourselves, when the highest court of a state has reached a determination "we give most respectful attention to its reasoning and conclusion." Ibid. The State Bar of Nevada, which made its own factual findings, and the Supreme Court of Nevada, which upheld those findings, were in a far better position than we are to appreciate the likely effect of petitioner's statements on potential members of a jury panel in a highly publicized case such as this. The Board and Nevada Supreme Court did not apply the list of statements likely to cause material prejudice as presumptions, but specifically found that petitioner had intended to prejudice the trial, [n.6] and that based upon the nature of the statements and their timing, they were in fact substantially likely to cause material prejudice. We cannot, upon our review of the record, conclude that they were mistaken. See United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 394-396 (1948).

Several amici argue that the First Amendment requires the state to show actual prejudice to a judicial proceeding before an attorney may be disciplined for extrajudicial statements, and since the Board and Nevada Supreme Court found no actual prejudice, petitioner should not have been disciplined. But this is simply another way of stating that the stringent standard of Nebraska Press should be applied to the speech of a lawyer in a pending case, and for the reasons heretofore given we decline to adopt it. An added objection to the stricter standard when applied to lawyer participants is that if it were adopted, even comments more flagrant than those made by petitioner could not serve as the basis for disciplinary action if, for wholly independent reasons, they had no effect on the proceedings. An attorney who made prejudicial comments would be insulated from discipline if the government, for reasons unrelated to the comments, decided to dismiss the charges, or if a plea bargain were reached. An equally culpable attorney whose client's case went to trial would be subject to discipline. The United States Constitution does not mandate such a fortuitous difference.

When petitioner was admitted to practice law before the Nevada courts, the oath which he took recited that "I will support, abide by and follow the Rules of Professional Conduct as are now or may hereafter be adopted by the Supreme Court . . . " Rule 73, Nevada Supreme Court Rules (1991). The First Amendment does not excuse him from that obligation, nor should it forbid the discipline imposed upon him by the Supreme Court of Nevada.

I would affirm the decision of the Supreme Court of Nevada.


1 Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming have adopted Model Rule 3.6 verbatim. Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin have adopted Model Rule 3.6 with minor modifications that are irrelevant to the issues presented in this case. Michigan and Washington have adopted only subsection (a) of Model Rule 3.6, and Minnesota has adopted only subsection (a) and limits its application to "pending criminal jury trial[s]." Utah adopted a version of Model Rule 3.6 employing a "substantial likelihood of materially influencing" test.

2 Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee, and Vermont have adopted Disciplinary Rule 7-107 verbatim. North Carolina also uses the "reasonable likelihood of . . . prejudic[e]" test. Rule of Professional Conduct 7.7 (1991).

3 Illinois Rule of Professional Conduct 3.6 (1990) ("serious and imminent threat to the fairness of an adjudicative proceeding"); Maine Bar Rule of Professional Responsibility 3.7 (j) (1990) ("substantial danger of interference with the administration of justice"); North Dakota Rule of Professional Conduct 3.6 (1990) ("serious and imminent threat of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding"); Oregon DR 7-107 (1991) ("serious and imminent threat to the fact-finding process in an adjudicative proceeding and acts with indifference to that effect"); and the District of Columbia DR 7-101 (Supp. 1991) ("serious and imminent threat to the impartiality of the judge or jury").

4 We disagree with Justice Kennedy's statement that this case "does not call into question the constitutionality of other states' prohibitions upon attorney speech that will have a `substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding,' but is limited to Nevada's interpretation of that standard." Supra, at —. Petitioner challenged Rule 177 as being unconstitutional on its face in addition to as applied, contending that the "substantial likelihood of material prejudice" test was unconstitutional, and that lawyer speech should be punished only if it violates the standard for clear and present danger set forth in Nebraska Press. See Petr.'s Br. 27-31. The validity of the rules in the many states applying the "substantial likelihood of material prejudice" test has, therefore, been called into question in this case.

5 The Nevada Supreme Court has consistently read all parts of Rule 177 as applying only to lawyers in pending cases, and not to other lawyers or nonlawyers. We express no opinion on the constitutionality of a rule regulating the statements of a lawyer who is not participating in the pending case about which the statements are made. We note that of all the cases petitioner cites as supporting the use of the clear and present danger standard, the only one that even arguably involved a non-third party was Wood v. Georgia, 370 U.S. 375 (1962), where a county sheriff was held in contempt for publicly criticizing instructions given by a judge to a grand jury. Although the sheriff was technically an "officer of the court" by virtue of his position, the Court determined that his statements were made in his capacity as a private citizen, with no connection to his official duties. Id., at 393. The same cannot be said about petitioner, whose statements were made in the course of and in furtherance of his role as defense counsel.

6 Justice Kennedy appears to contend that there can be no material prejudice when the lawyer's publicity is in response to publicity favorable to the other side. Supra, at —. Justice Kennedy would find that publicity designed to counter prejudicial publicity cannot be itself prejudicial, despite its likelihood of influencing potential jurors, unless it actually would go so far as to cause jurors to be affirmatively biased in favor of the lawyer's client. In the first place, such a test would be difficult, if not impossible, to apply. But more fundamentally, it misconceives the constitutional test for an impartial juror — whether the "juror can lay aside his impression or opinion and render a verdict on the evidence presented in Court." Murphy v. Florida, 421 U.S. 794, 800 (1975). A juror who may have been initially swayed from open-mindedness by publicity favorable to the prosecution is not rendered fit for service by being bombarded by publicity favorable to the defendant. The basic premise of our legal system is that law suits should be tried in court, not in the media. See, e. g., Bridges, 314 U. S., at 271; Patterson, 205 U. S. at 462. A defendant may be protected from publicity by, or in favor of, the police and prosecution through voir dire, change of venue, jury instructions and, in extreme cases, reversal on due process grounds. The remedy for prosecutorial abuses that violate the rule lies not in self-help in the form of similarly prejudicial comments by defense counsel, but in disciplining the prosecutor.