Before Tuesday's astounding press conference in Sanford, Florida, in which they said they were no longer lawyers for George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin shooting case, Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner were running a high-profile public relations campaign for their client. That campaign focused on a theme for which no evidence has been confirmed: that Martin attacked Zimmerman,
knocking him to the ground
, and causing him to so fear for his life that he pulled his 9mm pistol and squeezed the trigger, killing the unarmed teenager.
In an interview with WPTV, Uhrig said Martin was at fault for his own death:
"It's because that 6-foot-3 young man made a terrible decision and a bad judgment when he decided to smack somebody in the face and break their nose, jump on them and smack their head into the ground, and in doing that, put him in reasonable fear for his safety," Uhrig said. "He was absolutely entitled to defend himself and that's why Trayvon Martin is dead, not because of racial profiling."
What could become a problem for the two lawyers, writes
Judd Legum, is that such discourse may violate Florida's Rules of Progressional Conduct, on trial publicity, Rule 4-3.6
(a) Prejudicial Extrajudicial Statements Prohibited. A lawyer shall not make an extrajudicial statement that a reasonable person would expect to be disseminated by means of public communication if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that it will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding due to its creation of an imminent and substantial detrimental effect on that proceeding.
(b) Statements of Third Parties. A lawyer shall not counsel or assist another person to make such a statement. Counsel shall exercise reasonable care to prevent investigators, employees, or other persons assisting in or associated with a case from making extrajudicial statements that are prohibited under this rule.
Since many of the claims made by the two lawyers are not established but speculative, they may be prejudicing legal proceedings by tainting the jury pool should Zimmerman be charged.
Legum spoke with Pat Brussard, a law professor at Florida A&M, and a specialist in matters of professional responsibility. He wouldn't say that what the lawyers are doing violates the ethics code, it's “at a minimum it’s right there on the edge.”
According to Brussard, when Zimmerman’s attorneys “put out opinion information as if it were the truth” that is “sketchy behavior.” Uhrig was a paid television analyst during the Casey Anthony trial and Brussard said he may be “confusing the role of a spin-doctor on the Casey Anthony trial with what his job is now.”
In addition to chastising the media in Tuesday's press conference for painting their client as a villain and Martin as an angel, Uhrig devoted considerable time to repeating and expanding on the information that has been part of the public relations campaign from the start: Martin was the aggressor and Zimmerman was doing nothing wrong, was attacked, badly injured and had every right under the circumstances to defend himself with lethal force.
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