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domingo, marzo 25, 2012

George Zimmerman's Disgraceful Press Circus

Well, it's really, really ugly. On two fronts: the racist, unjustified killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black teenager, and then, to make the situation even more grotesque, some really awful, amateurish, disgraceful attorney-press interactions by a lawyers who says he is representing the killer.

I’ve been raging about the murder of Trayvon Martin. I’m disgusted by it. I want to see George Zimmerman arrested, indicted, tried and convicted. In short order. And I’m enraged by all of the bogus excuses for why the process of charging him has been so delayed. I confess to being extremely angry.

And as if all of that weren’t enough, I’m also shocked and disgusted by the “lawyering,” if that’s what it is, the accused, George Zimmerman is receiving in the media.

Look, if George Zimmerman is guilty of the homicide of Trayvon Martin, and I’m virtually certain he is, he is entitled in the United States to the effective assistance of counsel of his choice. And like it or not, counsel has to interact in big cases like this one with the press in a way that doesn’t make the client’s case worse. Counsel’s job isn’t to promote himself as a celebrity. It’s to protect his client, to make him more sympathetic, to assert the presumption of innocence. Or at the least to act as a shield. Counsel has to do all of the things he can that will prevent George Zimmerman from being completely convicted in the media before a trial is ever held. It's a hard, unthankful job. But in our system, that's the job that is required of whoever is representing him.

But if you look at George Zimmerman’s “defense,” and even using that term pains me in this case, it’s a pathetic mishmash of contradictions, disclaimers, and down right stupidity. It’s a disgrace. I’ve never seen anything as awful. And I say that based on being a criminal defense attorney for more than thirty years and having had to, on more than a few occasions, get my client's story out.

George Zimmerman is in hiding because he wasn’t immediately arrested and charged with the homicide of Trayvon Martin. Nobody can explain satisfactorily why Zimmerman is still at large. In fact, he shouldn’t be. He would be better off if he weren't. But he hasn’t spoken to the press. No. He’s enlisted friends to talk to the press. And he has a lawyer talking to the press. But is this lawyer really representing Zimmerman, or is he creating a huge, public relations calamity and credibility crisis for his client? Sadly, I think it’s the latter.

This past Friday, Craig Sonner, an Orlando lawyer, gave an interview to CNN. He said he was Zimmerman’s lawyer and that his client wasn’t a racist. But, as to the details of the crime,

Sonner refused to share the details of his conversations with Zimmerman, citing attorney-client privilege, but did say that the former neighborhood watchman has cooperated with the investigation. He also declined to share any of the specifics of his defense strategy, saying:

I don't know what all the evidence is, and what transpired that night. That's what the trial's going to be about, and that's hopefully what the trial will stay about, and not about being angry over a racial issue.

What? “I don’t know what all the evidence is, and what transpired that night.” You have to be kidding me. Sonner is representing Zimmerman, his conversations with Zimmerman about the crime have been privileged, but, and this is one big, fat but, he doesn’t “know what all the evidence is.” Are you kidding? That’s incredible on its face. How can the lawyer representing the defendant in the most publicized, most hotly debated incident since OJ, not know what the evidence is. And if he doesn’t know what the evidence is, why is he talking to the press about what he doesn't know rather than ferreting it out? What kind of bogus disclaimer is this?

But wait. On Friday, despite all the press and all of the talking about the case, according to WFTV, Craig Sonner said, no, he was NOT representing Zimmerman. He was NOT his lawyer. He was “just advising him.” So he’s not Zimmerman’s lawyer? Why are the media talking to him about this case if he doesn’t represent even the shooter?

Very nice. But don’t worry. This distinction about “lawyer” vs. “legal advisor” was immediately thrown out. The next day, March 24, Craig Sonner, again identifying himself as Zimmerman’s lawyer, was interviewed by CNN. He said he “believed” Zimmerman’s nose had been broken and the back of his head had lacerations. Then he uttered this astonishing sentence:

“I have not discussed with him the incident of that night other than the injury he sustained were from Trayvon Martin,” Sooner replied. “I assume he hit him in the face and caused him to fall back and hit his head.”

What? Wait a second. You are the guy’s lawyer. OK, maybe you’re not. But you’re talking to the press supposedly in his behalf and supposedly with his authorization, and you tell the press (a) you have not discussed with Zimmerman the incident of that night, and forget whether I learned what happened or not or discussed it with the shooter, none of that matters, because (b) it was self defense. Oh. And I "assume" something happened? Jeepers.

How is anyone supposed to believe a shred of what this guy is saying? Doesn’t his even saying it now subvert it and discredit it? He's definitely not out there saying, "Look, if my client committed a crime, and we don't think he did, he will surrender to authorities as soon as they say they want him to. He's presumed innocent. We have nothing further to say to the press about this case, and we won't have anything further to say until the case is resolved." No. He's talking about whatever he wants to, and it's a gumbo of disclaimer, hypothecation, assumption and incredibility.

But it doesn’t stop here. Oh, no. That would be merciful. We could just dismiss whatever this lawyer clown says and wait for the arrest. But no. The lawyer has to turn this case into a complete trainwreck. As to the self-defense claim, Sonner’s talked about that before to the press. Said he,

A lawyer for the man at the center of the Trayvon Martin death investigation said Florida’s “stand your ground” law doesn’t apply to the shooting that killed the unarmed teen.

“In my legal opinion, that’s not really applicable to this case. The statute on ‘stand your ground’ is primarily when you’re in your house,” said Craig Sonner, attorney for George Zimmerman.

“This is self-defense, and that’s been around for forever — that you have a right to defend yourself. So the next issue (that) is going to come up is, was he justified in using the amount of force he did?”

What? Self-defense? George Zimmerman is told not to pursue Trayvon Martin by dispatchers. He pursues him anyway. He chases him down. Zimmerman is armed. Martin has skittles, iced tea, a cell phone and a hoodie. Zimmerman provokes a confrontation, and then he shoots unarmed, 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. Only heaven knows how this can possibly be transformed into self defense. And is the lawyer for George Zimerman really telling the world in behalf of his client that “Stand Your Ground” is “not really applicable to this case” and that they will not raise that as a defense at trial? How, one would like to know, can the lawyer say anything like that if, as he admitted to the press, he’s never discussed the incident with Zimmerman (except for Zimmerman’s injuries) and he doesn't know what the evidence is?

Apparently, Craig Sonner doesn't care what he says to the press. And the press, to no one's genuine surprise, doesn't care whether it makes any sense or not. They just lap it up. They don't question him. But wait. The case is not about Sonner. It's about George Zimmerman. He's the one with the serious pending legal issue. He's the one who killed Trayvon Martin. He's the one who needs to be protected.

This is a complete and utter disgrace. It’s an embarrassment to those of us who take seriously our obligation actually to represent our clients, even those clients who are accused of unspeakably horrendous acts to which they have no defense. No matter what they’ve done, these people are entitled to effective counsel and to a fair trial. And I want George Zimmerman to receive one. He’s entitled to it. And Trayvon Martin is entitled to justice and a fair trial and conviction of the person who killed him.

The only way this ridiculous press circus will be stopped is by George Zimmerman’s arrest. Or by Craig Sonner's deciding to go into hiding with his client and to wait for the wheels of such justice as there is in Florida to grind out an indictment.

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