A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Why Criminal Defense Lawyers Hate The Media

When I joined the public defender's office out of law school I was told: "don't ever talk to the media."

I haven't followed that advice, to the chagrin of my colleagues in the defense bar who believe we shouldn't talk to the media, or are just upset that the media has no interest in their cases.

I don't hate the media, I think many of them have a philosophy about the justice system more in line with "us, then with "them." I just don't understand why they continue to piss off criminal defense lawyers on a daily basis.

If I have an opportunity to have the media report that I said my client is not guilty, I'll take it. If they want the "other side's" point of view because the prosecutor's press conference attacked the client harshly, I may try to soften the blow. My philosophy is that if there's going to be a story about my client being the worst person in the world, someone, like his lawyer, should be heard to say otherwise.

So here's some tips to our media friends:

1. Don't waste my time.

I'm happy to spend 5 minutes on the phone with you because you are not a lawyer and don't understand certain aspects of a criminal case.

I'm not happy to spend 20 minutes on the phone about my case, explaining the facts and other things you don't understand, only to read a story about the case that repeatedly quotes the prosecutor and makes it appear like the client has no lawyer, and we never spoke.

2. "My editor cut you out" and "I had a space issue," have run their course.

Do all of you in the media know that we hear these excuses daily? We would more believe the dog ate your homework. And why do you not tell your editor that the defense lawyer was very helpful in the story and you would at least like the story to be fair to both sides (THERE'S a concept!).

3. Listen.

Stop going to court, listening to the proceedings, and then catching me outside and asking "so what just happened?" That's getting old too. Pretend like you heard something like "granted, denied, trial next Monday, Not Guilty."

4. "Calls to the defense lawyer's office were not returned."

Factual, yes, gratuitously critical, yes. How about "the defense attorney was unable to be reached?" Saying the defense attorney did not return the call makes it appear like it was intentional. Gee, maybe the defense attorney didn't get the message, was out of town, or something else happened.

5. Be accurate, really accurate.

A plea of "not guilty" is a formal pleading filed in court. Sometimes it's announced in court. A plea of not guilty is not claiming "innocence," and therefore when the client 4 months later pleads guilty, it's inappropriate for you to do the whole "he previously said he was innocent......." Additionally, a continuance is a staple of the system. Almost every case is continued, more than once. Stop with the "another delay." The public eats this up, and blames the defense.We both know that many times the case is continued because the prosecutor has a witness problem, hasn't turned over a document, or is unavailable.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Criminal Defense Bar's Dirty Little Secret

Those in the legal field often say that "criminal lawyers are the only civil lawyers." This comes from the notion that civil lawyers spend their days fighting over money, and when people fight over money, they get nasty.

Well let me clue you in: we do that too. Well.....some of us do.

The concept of "stealing cases" is rampant in federal criminal practice. Federal cases are more lucrative than state cases, and federal practice is where you will find some cut throat crap amongst your "colleagues."

In federal cases, you can file a "temporary appearance" until you are retained. Reason being, once you file a "permanent appearance," you can't withdraw unless you die, or have a conflict of interest that involves something having to do with you dying. A temporary appearance is legalese for "they're trying to get the fee together."

A temporary appearance though, is like a rug to many fellow criminal defense lawyers - they'll walk right over it and go meet with your "temporary" client. They'll say you suck, they'll undercut you, they'll do anything to get the case. Anything.

I come from the school of "I won't take food out of your kids mouth." This means that I won't take cases from my friends.

In federal practice, you will learn soon that there is a difference between a "friend" and "very very very good friend."

Last week I had a lawyer call to tell me he saw I filed a temporary appearance and although he got a call to see the client, he was not going to see him without my consent. This has happened to me exactly once in my career.

I handled the case, until the client's family went to meet with another lawyer, who thought nothing of taking the case. He actually told me that he did not consider me a "social friend." His justification. He still doesn't know, because I didn't tell him, that I considered him a friend, and would not have met with the client's family knowing he was the lawyer. He also told me the clients were leaving me anyway and going somewhere else. My response to the clients had it been reversed, would have been what I said above - "I'm not going to be the lawyer to take food out of his kids mouth."

I've recently instituted a policy of not being anyone's second lawyer. Two reasons for this - 1. Most people who are not happy with their first lawyer will never be happy. 2. The others are being represented by my friends.

I have actually had colleagues argue with me about my practice and tell me that "we are in competition."

So maybe I'm a lone ranger in my philosophy, but I believe more in the notion of "what goes around....." well, you know, you, you, you and you - the thieves among us.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Back From A Break: The Bench, My Friend Ben, And Bond

I haven't blogged here since Christmas Eve. I've been sitting back, and watching our system continue to deteriorate into a circus of bad clowns and elephant crap.

The Bench

During my break I noticed a lot of terrible things coming out of the judiciary, both locally and nationally. These robes must have some effect on otherwise normal human beings, or more likely they were never normal, and the robe brought it out.

I read about a first time offender sentenced to the maximum 15 years in prison after a trial where the prosecutor offered no jail pre-trial, a man denied bond on a misdemeanor for absolutely no reason, a man be told he cannot talk publically about his acquittal, an appellate judge at a cocktail party who responded to an acquittal in a terrorism trial by stating "well, some cases just shouldn't be tried to juries, and the best, a female cancer victim lawyer told she must take her hat off her bald head in court.


My Friend Ben

Ben Kuehne was indicted by the "we don't target Miami criminal defense lawyers" DOJ. He was indicted for money laundering. Actually, he was indicted for providing an opinion to another criminal defense lawyer as to whether the money was clean. DOJ didn't like the opinion, and now they want Ben to go to prison.

Most people with a Bar card who know or know of Ben, are shocked, angered, and fully supportive. Others, can't get out of their own miserable world. You know, the "the Government is entitled to their day in court" folks? My opinion: the Government has enough days in court, they can skip this one. The fact that they didn't give Ben the benefit of the doubt is sickening, and will for a long time affect their standing at least in the South Florida legal market (both civil and criminal) and across the country.

Additionally, if you're one of those very few criminal defense lawyers who are saying "let's wait and see the evidence," keep walking when you see me. It's time to stand up and be counted in our profession, period. (See Resolution in support of Ben Kuehne by the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers)

As my friend Milt Hirsch said upon Ben's indictment: "It's official, it is now a crime to be a criminal defense lawyer."


Happy to report nothing ever changes in this business. Today I was continuing my audition in a federal case at a pre-trial detention hearing. The main issue was whether someone died as a result of some prescribed medications. This fact increased my client's sentencing guidelines from 5 years to over 20 years minimum. After a lengthy hearing the judge found the prosecutor did not meet his burden on that issue but that he may be a flight risk and reset the hearing to next week after announcing "I am going to set a bond." Next week she wants the family there to pledge assets.

Of course after the hearing I was fired.

So now I'm back, fully pissed off, and ready to resume writing.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com