J.A.A.B.Blog, Florida attorney Bill Gelin

Courthouse blogger faces Bar scrutiny after criticizing judges. Sun Sentinel by Rafael Olmeda, May 18, 2013

Florida attorney Bill Gelin

Courthouse blogger faces Bar scrutiny after criticizing judges

Sun Sentinel
By Rafael Olmeda
May 18, 2013

A Fort Lauderdale lawyer whose courthouse blog trades in news and gossip about South Florida's legal community is fighting off an investigation by the Florida Bar after publishing articles that criticized judges in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Bill Gelin, 46, is widely known as the main writer and publisher of the posts that appear on J.A.A.B.Blog, which started as an arm of a group called the Justice Advocacy Association and now is all that's left of it.

The Florida Bar, which governs the conduct of the state's attorneys, confirmed that it has opened two investigations into Gelin's conduct specifically related to the blog. Bar spokeswoman Karen Kirksey declined to answer more specific questions, citing Bar rules. The Bar also would not disclose whether anyone complained about the articles or whether the Bar initiated the investigation on its own.

Nova Southeastern University law professor Bob Jarvis said the Bar's action may provide a long-needed test case to determine just how far a lawyer can go in exercising his First Amendment right to criticize judges without jeopardizing his professional standing.

Since its inception in 2006, JAABlog has frequently targeted the Broward State Attorney's Office and judges who sit on the bench in Broward, less frequently reporting on Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

The Bar investigation is focusing on articles criticizing Broward County Judge Robert Diaz and Palm Beach County Judge Marni Bryson.

In 2012, JAABlog made sport of cataloging Diaz's daily court calendar, painting a picture of a jurist who spends little time hearing cases. Diaz did not return a call from the Sun Sentinel seeking comment.

The first item about Bryson appeared in January.

"Anyone familiar with the blog knows we've got a whole new, all-consuming purpose in life, and its name is Marni," the article said. It pointed to unfavorable coverage of her in The Palm Beach Post, including allegations of possible campaign finance violations during her 2010 run for office.

Reached by phone Friday, Bryson declined to comment.

Within weeks of that article's appearance, Gelin received letters from the Bar asking him whether he wrote it and the articles about Diaz.

Attorney Norm Kent, who is representing Gelin, said his client doesn't have to answer. In a May 14 letter, Kent chided the Bar for questioning Gelin without explaining what Bar rule he is alleged to have violated.

The Bar has rules barring lawyers from bringing the profession into disrepute and criticizing judges with false or reckless statements, but Gelin said they don't apply to the posts on JAABlog.

"As long as I tell the truth and it's accurate, I can say whatever I want," Gelin said.

raolmeda@tribune.com, 954-356-4457 or Twitter @SSCourts