OK, it's very early to be declaring the "Worst Lawyer Soundbite of the Year." We're not even halfway through January.
But this Minnesota lawyer is trying her hardest to claim the trophy.
Did I Just Say That?
The ABA Journal online reports on a lawyer representing an emotionally disturbed client charged with skinning his pet cat, which he planned to bake with onions in the oven. She questioned the public outrage about her client's transgression, saying to the press: "I don't know why there's the outrage about cooking a cat. Why aren't we talking about the mental health system." She capped it off with:
With these 9 words, this hapless lawyer has found herself in the national spotlight!
Should I Return this Reporter's Call?
Talking to the press about a criminal case is fraught with peril. It makes the lawyer look like she is more interested in the spotlight, or more interested in speaking out regarding the political / social aspects of her client's case, than what really matters: protecting her client.
Attorney Chaplinsky is certainly right that we should be talking about our broken mental health system. But will her comments, in the context of this particular case, really propel that dialog forward?
Professional Ethics Rules Restrict Public Commentsby Prosecutors and Defense Lawyers
New Hampshire professional responsibility rules restrict a NH criminal defense lawyer in terms of public comments regarding a pending case. Under N.H. Rule Prof. Conduct 3.6, neither prosecutor, nor defense lawyer, can make public statements if there is a "substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding." The rules are rarely enforced because of First Amendment considerations, but they do encourage caution when talking to the press - at least, for most lawyers they do.
Common Sense Rules
This lawyer did not violate any professional responsibility rules, but she violated something more fundamental - the rules of common sense. A criminal defense lawyer should always stop and think before making a comment to a reporter - about two basic questions. Does my client really need any more publicity? Will what I am about to say really help my client? When it comes to voicing personal opinions like the "it's just meat" comment, 99% of the time, the answer to these questions is "no."
Worst Lawyer Soundbite of the Year
Over the course of this year, I will be posting contenders for the Worst Lawyer Soundbite of the Year, and we will tally them up at the end of 2014 and choose a winner. If you find any contenders, please send them to me. But I'll go on record now and say: It's going to be tough to top this one!
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