Justice

EXPERTS: Public Relations Offensive By George Zimmerman’s Lawyers May Violate Legal Ethics Rules

Over the last several days George Zimmerman’s attorneys, Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner, have launched an aggressive public relations offensive on behalf of their client. They’ve appeared extensively on local and national media, frequently detailing their version of the events of February 26 as “fact.”

For example, on April 4, Hal Uhrig said the following on CNN:

The reason that Trayvon Martin is dead is not because he was black or because he wore a hoodie or because he was walking in the rain. It’s because that 6’3″ 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.

Such statements, which have not been established by medical records or other evidence, may be in conflict with the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 4-3.6(a) states:

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.

ThinkProgress spoke with Pat Brussard, a law professor at Florida A&M who teaches courses in Professional Responsibility. Brussard told ThinkProgress Zimmerman’s lawyers “may be in some trouble” because “it appears they are testifying.” 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.”

Brussard could not say definitively whether Zimmerman’s lawyers were in violation of the rules, but “at a minimum it’s right there on the edge.”

Many of Brussard’s concerns were shared by Anita Allen, a law professor who teaches legal ethics at the University of Pennsylvania. Allen noted that when information because less factual and more speculative, advocates have an ethical obligation to “keep their mouths shut” to avoid prejudicing a future legal proceeding.

UPDATE

In a live press conference this afternoon, Zimmerman’s attorneys announced that they are withdrawing as his counsel in light of the fact that they have “lost contact with him.”

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