I love this story!
Miami defense lawyer’ Stephen Gutierrez shocked onlookers when his pants burst into flames mid-trial as he was addressing the jury. Gutierrez was defending a client accused of intentionally setting his car on fire in South Miami. Yes, it was an arson case. He had just begun his closing argument when smoke started billowing from his pants pocket.
By sheer coincidence I’m sure, the lawyer was arguing that the defendant’s car spontaneously combusted—just like the lawyer’s trousers!— and was not intentionally set on fire. Observers told police that Gutierrez had been fiddling in his pocket right before his pants ignited. He ran out of the courtroom, and the jurors were ushered out as well. After Gutierrez returned unharmed, he told the judge that it wasn’t a staged demonstration gone horribly wrong, but just a coincidence. A faulty battery in his e-cigarette had caused the fire.
In an arson trial.
During closing argument.
Where the defense was “spontaneous combustion.”
Jurors convicted Gutierrez’s client of second-degree arson anyway. Miami-Dade police and prosecutors are now investigating the episode, and Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman is deciding whether to hold him in contempt of court.
1. There are four possible Florida legal ethics violations here. The first is Rule 4-3.5, which prohibits lawyers from intentionally disrupting a tribunal. I think setting your pants on fire qualifies. Next would be Rule 4- 8.4’s prohibition against misrepresentation, fraud, deceit or dishonesty. Rigging a “spontaneous” fire would be dishonest by definition. Another section of the same rule prohibits “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice…”. That rule is made for the periodic absurd trial tactic that nobody dreamed a lawyer would dare to try outside of a bad TV lawyer show. Finally, 8.4 (b) makes it professional misconduct for a lawyer to “commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.”
This covers setting off a fire in a public building, even if it was intended as “zealous representation.”
2. Now, I suppose it’s always possible that Gutierrez really was just a victim of the most astounding coincidence in trial history, and that his pants, without any intentional intervention by him, just happened to spontaneously combust, just like his client’s car. If that is not the case, then the lawyer is also guilty of lying to a judge and law enforcement, and could end up in jail.
3. Reportedly the investigation will determine whether his tongue is longer than a telephone wire.