A Law Professor Looks at the George Zimmerman Train Wreck

Yesterday George Zimmerman, the armed neighbhood watch commander who felt skittles-and-ice-tea armed African American teenager Trayvon Martin looked suspicious, followed him and shot him dead in cloudy circumstances, lost his attorneys. The media covered this story well but the significance of this from a legal point of view is best summarized by law prof Darren Lenard Hutchinson HERE in a post that needs to read in full.

There are many reasons why Zimmerman’s lawyers were justified in, in effect, firing their client (but they clearly left the door open to representing him if a)he contacted them b)he indicated he wanted to use them c)he took their advise or did not act without their input). Read the post in full but this is the part that jumped out at me most:

…Zimmerman’s lawyers held a press conference and announced that they were no longer representing him. They said that he had stopped returning their calls and that he was not following their advice. In a very bizarre twist, Zimmerman directly contacted the special prosecutor earlier this week. Ethical rules in every state prevent opposing counsel from speaking with represented adversaries without their counsel present. At this stage of the investigation, it is fair to say that Zimmerman is in an adversarial position with the state of Florida.

The prosecutor declined to speak with Zimmerman without his lawyers. Shockingly (or not), he said that the men who have presented themselves to the public as his lawyers were not actually representing him. Instead, he said that they were his “legal advisers.” Well, that is what lawyers do when they provide representation: they give legal advice.

The situation on Zimmerman’s side is unraveling…

Read it in full and you have the portrait of someone who seemingly acts on impulse. The worst part for Zimmerman is that — supporter Sean Hannity notwithstanding — to many Americans and perhaps the special prosecutor Zimmerman’s behavior now in this case (vanishing so no one can find him, not calling back his attorneys, starting a website without checking with his attorneys, calling Sean Hannity without clearing it with his attorneys, calling the special prosecutor) fit in with the initial impression of a neighborhood watch volunteer with a gun who’s going to do what his gut tells him to do (even if that means following a teenager when 911 tells him they don’t need that; and carrying a gun when he reportedly had been known about neighborhood watch national rules where they urge volunteers not go carry weapons).

What can be predicted:
1. It seems increasingly unlikely that no charge at all will be brought against him.
2. He will give his first big interview to Sean Hannity and get typical softball Hannity questions (Hannity gives all people he sympathizes with p.r. style interviews: a Mike Wallace he ain’t.)
3. Defense lawyers must be salivating to take on this case since it will be so high profile case and may not be as cut and dry as those on each side may think or wish.

The prosecutor in the case is expected to make an announcement by the end of the week. Meanwhile, Martin’s family has responded to this latest twist:

Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Martin’s family, expressed surprise over the announcement and issued a statement to TIME.

Trayvon’s family was always concerned that Zimmerman doesn’t try to skirt his legal responsibilities and become a flight risk. We always wanted this before a judge and a jury. We hope that [authorities] will take this under consideration that this a flight risk. If they go to press charges, is he really going to face them?

Regarding Zimmerman’s website, Crump says:

It’s America, and he has a right to do what he wants to do. The family was a little taken aback that George said he had this life-changing occurrence [and needs money]. Well Trayvon Martin had a life-ending occurrence; his family had to do all this stuff [to get someone] who killed their child to face a judge and a jury. The fact that he has this website and he’s out to do this website, when you see the balance, Trayvon is dead. If it were the reverse, Trayvon would have been arrested by Day One.

High profile defense attorney Mark Geragos on CNN blasted the performance of Zimmerman’s lawyers at their press conference.