By SYLVIA ADCOCK, Staff Writer
The N.C. State Bar will hold its quarterly meeting Raleigh next week, and the Ethics Committee will take another stab at a controversial amendment to the preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The preamble became an issue in July when attorneys argued whether an amendment would limit free speech and threaten attorney autonomy. The controversy has been so heated that the Bar has had to publish comments to the provision in a separate book-length binder.
The amendment to the preamble says that “while employed or engaged in a professional capacity, a lawyer should not discriminate on the basis of a person’s race, gender, national origin, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. This responsibility of non-discrimination does not limit a lawyer’s right to advocate on any issue.”
Some attorneys have expressed concern as to whether lawyers who fail to adhere to the goals of the amendment could face professional discipline. Alice Neece Mine, the Bar’s ethics counsel, has said repeatedly that the Bar has never cited a preamble as a basis for discipline.
But to debate isn’t expected to be resolved quietly. Some attorneys have written letters to the Bar complaining that the provision could force them to represent a client who wants to argue that same-sex marriage should be legal when homosexuality violates that attorney’s religious beliefs.
The Ethics Committee is also expected to take up a number of other issues, including using the use of search engine words to advertise on the Internet.
In other business, the full Bar council is expected to approve a new specialty in appellate practice. The new specialty, if adopted by the council and approved by the Supreme Court, would embrace both civil and criminal appellate practices and is billed as an effort to improve the quality of appellate representation by establishing standards of practice.
The specialty was developed by a committee that includes a Supreme Court justice, Court of Appeals judge, 4th Circuit judge and lawyers with extensive appellate practice. Currently the criminal law specialty includes a subspecialty for certification in criminal appellate practice, but those practitioners would be transferred to the new specialty.
The meeting begins Wednesday, Oct. 27, and ends Friday, Oct. 29.