Puerto Rican attorneys under attack in Free Speech battle

"The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers," says Dick the Butcher in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2. The famous quote conveys the idea that if you want to maintain power by suppressing the people, then lawyers are your enemy. The powers that be in Puerto Rico have that same idea, and they are now engaged in a sophisticated legal assault on Puerto Rico’s bar association, called the Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico.

The Colegio has long been outspoken on matters of Free Speech in Puerto Rico. Recently, Puerto Rican police assaulted peaceful student protesters with pepper spray and clubs. Protests are now banned, and the student leaders are arrested. As Colegio members challenge these assaults on the First Amendment, the Puerto Rican legislature closed its proceedings from the public.

The latest legal assault on the Colegio claims to be about life insurance. From 1932 to 2006, Puerto Rican law required the Colegio to provide insurance to its members. Notwithstanding the law, a group of adversaries of the Colegio brought a class action lawsuit against the life insurance program. This lawsuit is assigned to Judge José A. Fusté, a federal judge with close political ties to the ruling party and a personal history of opposing the Puerto Rico bar association. After finding that the life insurance program was illegal, he converted the lawsuit to a class action for damages, and forbade the Colegio from telling its members how they could opt out. The First Circuit reversed that order, but Judge Fusté has nevertheless held the Colegio’s president, Osvaldo Toledo, in contempt and sent him to jail. Toledo’s offense is that he communicated with the Colegio’s members about how they could opt out of the lawsuit. U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez made a speech on the House floor last month that details the shocking suppression of Free Speech in Puerto Rico. Follow this link to read for yourself the opt-out instructions that landed Toledo in jail.


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