The Tale Of Two “Help Me” Howards



sam fields

This September I will start my thirty first year of law practice in BrowardCounty.

One of the people I have known since 1984 is Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, who is also the long-time WSVN-TV “Help Me Howard” legal advisor.

I don’t know of anyone who more strongly defends the First Amendment. I don’t know anyone who is supremely sensitive to the needs of minorities.

This is a guy who would have supported the right of Nazis to march in Skokie.

At the same time, were he ten years older, and it was 1964, he would have been in Mississippi risking his life alongside slain civil rights martyrs James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman to help Negroes (as they were called back then) register to vote.

Last week he had to choose between these two beliefs.

It was “Civil Libertarian” Howard versus “Civil Rights” Howard.

He came down on the side of the civil rights.

Although they dispute it was them, he fired two of his Assistant Public Defenders for putting  scurrilous remarks about Palestinians on their personal Facebook pages.

Had they done this on Public Defender time, or used office computers, or office websites this is a no-brainer.

If this was a private company–recalling that this is an “at will” state for employees–they were also out the door…don’t bother to say goodbye.

But, these two guys work for the government and therefore have constitutional protections in the First Amendment (free speech) and Fourteenth Amendment “Due Process” rights.

There is talk that this will turn into a lawsuit.

It could turn on a judge resolving questions like:

  • May the off-hours politics of  government employees subject them to firing?
  • Is there an off-hours free speech red line that government employees can’t cross and who will decide where that line is?

The ACLU versus Howard Finkelstein.

That’s not something I would have expected to ever see in my lifetime.


(Sam Fields is a criminal defense attorney who started his career in the public defenders office.)


14 Responses to “The Tale Of Two “Help Me” Howards”

  1. Norm Price says:

    Sam as usual you are acting like a jackass. Howard is a fantastic public defender and I actually have known him since the late 70’s as we played softball together. Why is it always you are like Obama with the MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY?He is a very fair person and if someone loves the Palestine even though they murdered 3 innocent teenagers and now have bombarded Israel with rockets. Facebook itself is very stringent as far as posting so if he fired 2 then why not post what they wrote instead of just condemning Howard

  2. Broward Resident says:

    If these two jackasses file a lawsuit over this they better start studying for the bar in another state. no one hacked both of their facebook accounts.

  3. Sam The Sham says:

    Howard has a problem with at least one of these guys.

    The first condemned the Palestinians who cheered for the death of the three Israeli teens. There is nothing wrong with that condemnation and Help Me Howard overstepped his bounds.

    The second guy condemned all Palestinians as cock roaches. This is a good bit different and paints an entire ethnicity with the same brush.

    Still, I don’t think it calls for firing. Maybe time off or a letter of reprimand. Maybe careful assignments of cases in the future, not firing.

    Howard is an ass. He is so used to the lefty line of the US being at fault in everything, he would not spot an enemy even with its boot on his neck.

  4. just saying says:

    don’t know either attorney.
    one has his license since 1979, the other since 2005.

    lessons to be learned from their firings because free speech really isn’t free speech, esp when in writin.

    another reason to stay off fb

  5. Howard Is Right says:

    Howard can’t have people representing his office spouting hate. The Facebook page made it clear where they worked.

  6. Ha Ha Ha says:

    Anonymous communications have an important place in our political and social discourse. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment. A frequently cited 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission reads:

    Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.

    The tradition of anonymous speech is older than the United States. Founders Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers under the pseudonym “Publius ” and “the Federal Farmer” spoke up in rebuttal. The US Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized rights to speak anonymously derived from the First Amendment.

    The right to anonymous speech is also protected well beyond the printed page. Thus in 2002 the Supreme Court struck down a law requiring proselytizers to register their true names with the Mayor’s office before going door-to-door. …


    I’m not sure I see the connection with the Public Defenders Office case. This wasn’t anonymous speech.

  7. boo hoo says:

    “Finkelstein said Raticoff had been in trouble along similar lines in 2005, for emailing a “racist” joke around the office in which one of the multiple choice answers was “extreme Muslims.””

    In any other business, Raticoff would have been fired 9 years ago!

  8. Ha Ha Ha says:

    If these lawyers had spoken anonymously, they could have exercised their right to free speech while also keeping their jobs.

  9. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    Mr.finkelstein did the right think by shit-cannin them both. Bigots beware. I will hunt you down, expose you( love you larry B) and most importantly see to it that you are exposed….

  10. Lamberti is a Criminal says:

    Finklestein is a pandering hypocrite

  11. Howardcrite says:

    Help Me didn’t consider firing the gay bashing assistant PD a few years ago a big enough deal for firing What a howardcrite.

  12. Plain Language says:

    If you use cocaine even while on official duty we should forgive you and later on you should be able to run for office.

    But if you call a Palestinian a cockroach on your own time for rooting on the horrible killing of a teenager you lose your job in disgrace.

    What those two lawyers said was stupid but it was said at a time when they felt anger and hate for acts that were outrageous. They should be made to seek help for those feelings. You don’t fire them over it. You counsel them. You get them to come to their senses and apologize. You work with them.

    This firing has every appearance of political convenience for Howard. Self-serving and harsh. It showed little courage on his part to handle a staff issue correctly. If every lawyer today with a hate or anger issue was fired, the entire court house would be empty.

  13. Andrew Markoff says:

    I had thought otherwise, but after discussing this with an attorney friend of mine (in another state), I have to agree with Plain Language’s take on this, except for the “self-serving” part. After all, I had totally agreed with Finkelstien when the firings were first announced. Perhaps, for all we know, the two defenders didn’t react well to an attempt at counseling, but I have to agree that the American and the Floridian way of terminating people from their jobs at the slightest change in the breeze is not going to make for a health economy and a good way of life overall. The job termination thing is very different in other advanced countries, and there may be some lessons we could learn from how this kind of incident could be handled otherwise.

  14. Howardtheduck says:

    Seems to me that another PD made comments regarding homosexuals and wasn’t fired …I guess that’s just the norm for being a PD making homophobic slurs. Why different punishments is one group better than another?