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