SANTA ANA — The Orange County Bar Assn. has criticized an attorney for surrogate mother Anna L. Johnson for making "improper personal attacks" on a judge after losing the highly publicized case.
The attorney, Richard C. Gilbert, said Thursday that the bar association's action is an attempt to limit free speech. Gilbert also said he is considering filing a libel or defamation suit against several members of the bar.
In a resolution passed Wednesday, the bar association said lawyers who disagree with a judge's rulings should confine their criticisms to the case at hand and refrain from personal attacks on the judge.
The resolution did not name Gilbert. But Jennifer J. King, bar association president, said Thursday that it was prompted by complaints from other attorneys after Gilbert remarked to the media that Superior Court Judge Richard N. Parslow Jr. was "not bonded to his brain."
Parslow was the presiding judge in the surrogate case.
The resolution notes that the bar association's code of professional conduct requires lawyers to "uphold the legal profession's and the judiciary's image in the eyes of the public."
"We were specifically addressing a glaring professional misconduct," King said.
Noting that "there have been recent comments by a lawyer reported in the press attacking a member of the judiciary," the resolution rejects "improper criticism" of judges and notes that disagreements "should be confined to attacks on the merits, rather than such personal attacks on the judge."
King said the resolution is not a disciplinary measure and has no legal weight. Rather, she said it is meant to remind attorneys and the public of the bar association's "commitment to professional conduct."
Parslow presided over the controversial lawsuit in which surrogate mother Johnson sought to retain parental rights to the baby she bore for its genetic parents, Mark and Crispina Calvert. Johnson, who was represented by Gilbert and his wife and law partner, Diane Marlowe, argued that she had bonded to the baby as she carried him.
Parslow, however, rejected Johnson's claim and awarded all parental rights and full custody of the baby boy to the Calverts. Gilbert has vowed to appeal.
Gilbert's remark outraged some of his colleagues, including Newport Beach attorney Stuart P. Jasper, a member of the bar association's board of directors.
In a Nov. 4 letter to The Times, Jasper branded the remark "a cheap shot" and said Gilbert "is an embarrassment to the 8,000 lawyers in Orange County who have an interest in maintaining the integrity of the profession--and the public's respect for it."
Jasper said he had abstained from the vote on the resolution because after writing the letter to The Times, he had received a call from Marlowe asking him to give a deposition in a lawsuit that would soon be filed against him.
On Thursday, Gilbert said he had asked Jasper and two other members of the bar association, whom he refused to name, to give depositions, but all three had refused.
"I have made no decision to sue anybody," Gilbert said, adding that no papers have been filed. "I would like to take some depositions" to determine whether a suit would be appropriate, he said.
Gilbert said the bar association functions like a political action committee for lawyers, whose livelihood depends in part on good relations with judges.
"I would like to know how much money they have received from the courts for assignments to cases in the last five years. I would also like to know how much money they have donated to judges at campaign time, since that would be evidence of bias," he said.