By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Since 2006, attorney and courthouse muckraker William "Bill" Gelin has been shaking up the judiciary on his popular site JAA Blog. Whether sounding off about potential corruption and racism in the courthouse ruling class or even about its work habits, the 46-year-old Oakland Park attorney hasn't held back his opinions. But now it looks like his criticisms are boomeranging right back.
In the past few months, the attorney has been fielding heat from the Florida Bar. The statewide group has opened a complaint investigation into the blogger. But the organization won't tell Gelin why the complaint has been filed or at whose behest.
"They won't cite any rule that I've violated. They won't cite any misconduct that I've done," he tells New Times. "They just want to poke around and ask a bunch of questions about the blog, which makes me think they want to set me up for something."
It's ironic that the muzzle is coming out now. For the past year or so, Gelin's blogging has slowed due to family duties and boredom. But when he was firing on all cylinders, JAA Blog peeled back the lid on the day-to-day mechanics of the courthouse. Besides offering opinion and insight, the blog also held judges accountable — even keeping a running count on the days they weren't working or publicizing their early exits. Obviously, putting the judiciary on blast didn't earn the blog a lot of friends at the courthouse.
"If you go back over the many years of it, there have been a lot of extremely powerful people that we've knocked down multiple pegs," Gelin says. "Obviously there are a lot of people with axes to grind out there." Two judges in particular were favorite targets on JAA Blog — Broward County Judge Robert Diaz and Palm Beach County Judge Marni Bryson.
Since the early months of the year, Gelin has been receiving letters from the bar about his blogging. The latest letter, dated May 10, asked specifically if Gelin was behind the blog and also listed a number of specific entries in question, many dealing with Diaz. But the letters didn't say what was offensive in the entries, Gelin says. At this point, the bar just wants an admission of authorship.
In response to the bar's questions, Gelin's own attorneys have argued that the JAA Blog entries are a form of political speech. "I don't see how they can force anyone to ID themselves as the author of a political article," says Russell Cormican. "I think it's tantamount to them sending a letter asking, 'Bill, are you a member of the Communist Party?' "
The Florida Bar's Francine Walker tells New Times the organization cannot comment on ongoing investigations. She noted that the bar can open its own cases against its members. "All of our cases do not have to be opened by sworn affidavit," she says. "The Bar has the ability to open cases based on information we've received or even information we've seen in the media."
Although his case file seems to indicate the bar is the complainant in his case, Gelin still wonders if anyone from the laundry list of people he's pissed off is responsible.
"They obviously have trouble with this new technology that allows lawyers to get information out to the general public that normally would be talked about in the courthouse cafeteria or an elevator," he says. "Fine, if they want to further restrict the speech of lawyers, which they have the right to do, they need to pass some rules and make clear what they need to do. They just can't change the rules as they go."