Arizona Supreme Court Requires Lawyers to be GLBT Friendly
[PHOENIX, AZ] - In the halls of justice, gays and lesbians now have solid grounds for equal representation by their lawyers. On May 31 the Arizona Supreme Court revised its Rule 42, adding to comment D, of ethical rule 8.4, which addresses professional misconduct by lawyers. The revision makes it an ethical violation for any Arizona lawyer to show intentionally "by words or conduct, bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, disability age, sexual orientation or socio-economic status."
The change in language is the fruition of a more than five-year effort by area lawyers to see the GLBT community recognized. According to Brendan Mahoney, the change is one of many the Bar Association's Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee, which Mahoney chairs, has worked on.
"The purpose of the committee, broadly speaking, is to promote the interests of justice in the legal system with an emphasis on ending discrimination against the GLBT community," Mahoney said.
The group was formed after research from an Arizona Bar Association GLBT task force found that gays and lesbians in Arizona faced severe bias in navigating the courts.
According to a summary of the findings on the state bar Web site, 77 percent of judges and attorneys surveyed reported that they had heard negative comments about gays and lesbians, with 29 percent of lesbian and gay employees in the justice system reporting they heard negative remarks. In addition, 13 percent of judges and attorneys have observed negative treatment by judges in court toward those perceived to be gay or lesbian, and 45 percent have heard negative remarks about a lesbian or gay person in the context of a particular case.
When the task force surveyed the general GLBT community, it found even higher rates of discrimination. Twenty-two percent of respondents said they observed discrimination against gays within the legal/justice system. Nineteen percent reported that they have been personally discriminated against. Thirty-three percent of the lesbian and gay respondents who work within the justice system have witnessed sexual orientation discrimination against lesbians and gays.
According to Mahoney, the rule revision brings Arizona's bar into line with federal rules held by the American Bar Association and the state's judicial canon. Now GLBT persons who feel they have been discriminated against by their legal representation can file a complaint with the state bar. If a lawyer is found to have violated the bar's code of ethics, he or she could face a range of punishments, from censure to disbarment.
Mahoney found the legal community as a whole was "enthusiastic in its support" of the rule change. As a part of a mandatory dues organization, which all Arizona's lawyers must belong to, Arizona Bar committees like SOGI are prohibited from taking political action; so while some may consider protecting gays and lesbians a radical act, the bar association sees it as simply a matter of "fair administration of justice," according to Mahoney.
"It would be a rare lawyer that would argue, regardless of their political views, that gays and lesbians should be discriminated against," Mahoney said.
For Kathie Gummere, also who worked extensively on the project and has also served as SOGI's chair, the rule revision stands as "a warning to lawyers that they're supposed to treat all of their clients with dignity and respect," putting a stop to anti-gay language in courtrooms.
"That's a tradition in the law that's supposed to be followed," Gummere said. "Whether it's a judge speaking from the bench or an attorney taking a case ... they need to just treat us with respect."
Mahoney believes that, while the legal process may a difficult place for the GLBT community to find its voice, most officers of the court don't condone discrimination.
"With all of its imperfections, it's fair to say most of the lawyers and judges at least intend to strive for equal representation of all participants," Mahoney said.
The change to Rule 42 goes into effect on Dec. 31, 2002. For more information about the Arizona Bar Association, or details on how to file a legal complaint, visit the Bar Association Web site at www.azbar.org, or call .