Early Occupational Defamation and Disloyal Lawyers: 'He is Ambodexter. There Cannot Be a Greater Slander'
Arizona State University College of Law
Cambrian Law Review, Vol. 33, p. 53, 2002
Defamation, a subject of considerable interest to legal historians, did not become actionable in the royal courts until the early 16th century. As the secular cause of action for defamation developed, there were a number of actions instituted by lawyers, including a significant number of defamation suits by lawyers accused of being ambidexters, the contemporary term for conflict of interest. Medieval discipline of lawyers for ambidexterity, a common form of lawyer misconduct, likely contributed to making these accusations actionable defamation. This paper studies 45 early modern defamation cases involving accusations of lawyers of ambidexterity. The discussion analyzes the initial and evolving defamatory language and its judicial treatment. The cases show that accusing a lawyer of being an ambidexter was clearly and unequivocally actionable as defamation and that nothing was more defamatory than charging a lawyer with disloyalty to a client. Moreover, the word, ambidexter, signified substantial opprobrium. The defamatory nature of such accusations and this word and the negative impact on professional reputation of these accusations were linked to usages within the legal profession and contemporary literary works and religious discourse. The paper concludes by suggesting that these early defamation suits by lawyers may have played a role in the evolution of the more general category of professional and occupation defamation that probably did not arise until the next century.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 14
Keywords: defamation, ethics, legal history
Date posted: June 22, 2009
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