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.
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There is a true story about Clarence Darrow putting a wire in his cigar and puffing it during an opponents closing argument to the jury. The idea was to create an absurdly long ash, so the jury would become distracted and watched to see when it would fall on his suit, when they were supposed to be paying attention to the summation. I’ve used that story in ethics seminars, asking attendees if this was unethical, and if so, was there a rule that could be used to punish a lawyer who did it.
Now comes word that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled on Tuesday that there was no prejudicial error in the trial of Buddy Robinson, who was convicted in the death of his downstairs neighbor, despite the fact that the prosecutor, then Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, pretended to fall asleep during his Robinson’s lawyer’s closing. Robinson had appealed the verdict because of this and other questionable conduct by the prosecutor. Benson admitted that he sometimes pretended to be asleep in trials to annoy defense attorneys. In its opinion denying the appeal, the court concluded that the trial judge did not err in denying Robinson’s motion for a new trial, given the strength of the prosecution case.
It also said that the fake sleep bit “was sophomoric, unprofessional and a poor reflection on the prosecutor’s office.”
It’s also an ethics violation, a couple of ways. Maine’s Rules… Continue reading
Now SHE'S what you call a distraction...
Illinois attorney Thomas W. Gooch III became the object of great hilarity in legal circles this week when he reacted to what he felt was an unethical courtroom tactic by his opposing counsel in a lawsuit by filing this motion in limine:
Defendant’s counsel is anecdotally familiar with the tactics and theatrics of Plaintiff’s counsel . . . . Such behavior includes having a large breasted woman sit next to him at counsel’s table during the course of the trial. There is no evidence whatsoever that this woman has any legal training whatsoever, and the sole purpose of her presence at Plaintiff’s Counsel’s table is to draw the attention of the jury away from the relevant proceedings before this court, obviously prejudicing the Defendant’s in this or any other cause. Until it is shown that this woman has any sort of legal background, she should be required to sit in the gallery with the rest of the spectators and be barred from sitting at counsel’s table during the course of this trial.
Not surprisingly, the motion failed, and predictably, Gooch has become the latest villain in the gender wars, reducing a competent legal professional (according to attorney Dmitry Feofanov’s answer to the complaint) to the size of her bra cup and denigrating women generally. Continue reading