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

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lessons From Casey: The Silent Lawyers

The main lesson from the Casey Anthony case is how little the public knows about the criminal justice system.

Who's to blame?


When's the last time we went to a Rotary Club lunch to explain due process? When's the last time we asked to go to career day to explain to kids the meaning of the Sixth Amendment?

Sure, there are people in society that have their own opinion of the system and could care less if it's Tuesday and someone tried to convince them it's Tuesday, but we as lawyers take little time to educate the masses.

In fact, the only lawyers I see these days are those on TV kissing ass to their host and abdicating their responsibility to maybe take the other side and explain the way things really work.

As the Casey Anthony case comes to an end - the lessons for lawyers, for anyone who works in the criminal justice system, are several:

[1] Trials are like football games. Fans decide who they are rooting for and if a penalty is called against their team, it's bogus. In fact, any moment which shows the weakness of their "team," is discarded as irrelevant and a cheap shot by the other team.

[2] Speed is important. Stopping proceedings to deal with legal issues is not good for ratings. Better to raise those issues on appeal, and have the appellate court reverse the conviction and order a new trial. While the public will complain, it will give them another opportunity to watch a "dramatic" trial.

[3] Accuracy in media reports takes a back seat to the amount of time set aside for the report. Incorrect reporting on rules and case law is of no matter. If it sounds good, it works.

[4] Although the defendant is on trial, the trial is really about the victim, and all rulings should be in favor of the victim. That whole "defendant has a right to a fair trial" thing was written a long time ago, before the public was able to tweet.

[5] Successful commentary is that which criticizes the defense, and everything related to the defense. Take the other side, or express objectivity, and you're out.

Lawyers need to write, speak, express rational thought. Change a mind. Educate a moron.

Those of us sitting back in wonderment over the frenzy, the comments, the lawyers acting like theyre on Broadway, should remember that sitting back is part of the problem.

Non-anonymous comments welcome.Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An Open Letter To The Orlando Criminal Defense Bar

So, how's the courthouse coffee shop these days? Remember when you all used to sit around and talk about this judge, and that prosecutor, and whether Joe was going to win that tough case down the hall? You mused over the recent Fourth Amendment ruling and whether Judge so and so would get re-elected, having kicked a big coke case?

Now the Orlando criminal defense bar seems like the movie Cocoon. Remember? A couple guys found an energized pool that made them feel great? Then everyone jumped in the pool and sucked all the energy out of the pool, ending the magic, and killing the people who lived in the pool.

Is this that important to you? This perceived fame? This extended 15 minutes? Would it have killed you to decline to be a pimp for the cable news shows, for your local media outlets who just want to see the defendant convicted? A staple of law practice is that when someone is attacking a colleague, it's often difficult to find a local lawyer to handle the case. Not anymore. Fame, money trumps any sense of "Bar."

The public loves it, spewing love all over those lawyers who will "tell the truth," as in be on cue for criticism of the lawyer who walks the same courthouse halls on a daily basis.

And those who were lawyers involved in the case who are no longer restrained by your representation? Is this what your former clients, Casey's parents, Mark, want to hear you say about their daughter? Are the compliments from the mob-mentality public that essential to your already successful career?

The Casey Anthony trial will end. The cameras will leave, the reporters you think are your friends will move on to the next big trial in the next local community, with the next group of lawyers willing to spend their days trashing their colleagues. You won't be relevant to the broader legal system. You were used for a reason - a need for local Orlando lawyers to dump on the defense. Violins everywhere are jealous.

To the young lawyers in Orlando, the ones who look up to the more experienced around them, who strive to be great trial lawyers, and be a part of a bar that provides support, mentorship, and constructive criticism, the answer to your question is "no," this is not how local criminal defense bars should operate. Those lawyers that are more interested in fame and love from the public at the expense of those they share a wait in line at the podium with, are the exception.

Take my advice, when the Casey Anthony case is over, the lawyers you saw on TV that you should want to ask questions to, to seek advice from, to get perspective about the the practice, are those who sat at counsel table.

Non-anonymous comments welcome.Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Post For Me, Don't Read It, I Don't Care. It's A Bookmark For Me

I took the last week to breathe. For the first time since 1999, I am no longer in a leadership position in the criminal defense bar. (Immediate Past President is an official position in FACDL, but my main job is to keep quiet unless asked to speak). Last Saturday night June 11th, I gave my awards, got my engraved marble Washington Monument looking momento, and said good-bye.

When I gave my (when will he sit down) good-bye remarks, I focused on the young lawyers in the room. I told them that 13 years ago I had no idea I would ever be President of FACDL.

I got involved in the governance of the criminal defense bar for no other reason but to be involved in the governance of the criminal defense bar. My small bar is no different than any other bar - there are suspicions of those who ascend into voluntary bar leadership. Few days went by where someone didn't say "why are you doing all of this?" "Are you running for judge?"

Now that I'm done, I'm asked about NACDL, and other Bar positions.

I would not trade the last 13 years. Organizational politics takes it's toll. Many times you wish you never knew the "workings" of a voluntary bar association, you wish you could be like many who show up for the beer and pizza, leave early, and complain, wondering what is being done to fix their problems.

This was never a marathon for me, a road to the top of the world. I love being a criminal defense lawyer, and I love FACDL. I've made deep, lasting, friendships. I've seen single lawyers marry and have multiple children. I've seen dear friends divorce, and listened to people confide in me their medical conditions. I've even represented a member or two in some minor dust up. I count as some of the most important people in my life those I have met in FACDL.

I have no desire to be a judge, to be President of NACDL, or anything else other than continue building my practice and re-commit myself to charitable causes in my native Miami community, including Diabetes, a disease I've had since the age of 34. We've started a Florida Association of Bar Defense Lawyers, and I'm going to work on building that organization. I'm not saying these other things won't be of interest in the future, but for now, I'm tired, I'm done, I'm satisfied.

One of the things I always hear from lawyers is "I want to get involved, but I don't have the time." You have the time. Not everyone needs to be on the board, or be President. There are committees, projects, things that take little time but can result in much growth in your career, both personally and professionally. The apathy of the criminal defense bar nationwide is to blame for much of the railroading we receive by judges and legislatures. That we concentrate more on making money than making policy, is well known.

I once stole a quote from a Bar leader which I think is prevalent here:

"Your practice is not the walk from your house to your car to the courthouse."

Non-anonymous comments welcome.Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What Will You Say If Casey Anthony Is Acquitted?

After my last post, where I criticized the lawyer frenzy of commentary on the Casey Anthony case, I was immediately asked if I was going to write about the case. I said no. I would not be writing about the case. I would not be picking apart the evidence, the lawyers (on either side), the judge, witnesses, or any other aspect of the case. I'm not there. I'm watching bits and pieces, and it's not my case.

I've accepted an interview once during the trial, by a reporter I know and respect, who had one question regarding whether it's common to see a certain type of evidence in a case. Easy question, and the answer wouldn't involve me pontificating about a death penalty trial 200 miles away.

In not "writing about the case" though, I do have a question: What if she's acquitted?

I'm not saying she will be, or even that it's likely, but anyone who has ever entered a courtroom knows that you can never say what a jury will do.

The hate mob surrounding the defense in this case is as big as it gets. I have read nothing negative about the prosecution. Nothing negative about the judge. This was not the case in O.J. Simpson, where both the defense and prosecution and judge were the subject of the public's scorn. In OJ, the defense had the best mob, simply because Simpson was a popular figure. Casey Anthony is hated.

So I ask, if she is acquitted, will Baez be a hero? Will it be because the jury was stupid? Will it be because the judge did something wrong? What will be the take from the anonymous commenters on newspaper websites and from lawyers who have been spending months critical of everything defense?

Will everyone have been wrong? Will the "system" be to blame?

Just a question.

Non-anonymous comments welcome.Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter

Monday, June 06, 2011

No One Would Like My Commentary On The Casey Anthony Case

This morning I began to write a post on the Casey Anthony trial. I started writing about my disgust over the media coverage. I stopped because I figured too many people would not be able to separate my thoughts about this case from what's currently going on in the Rakofsky circus.

People would ask how I could write about my opinions on the coverage of the Casey Anthony trial, my thoughts that the pounding on the defense is just disgusting, when I have been part of the commentary on the Rakofsky matter. I realized quickly that the difference is that I am a defendant in the Rakofsky case, and my commentary in his underlying case is post-trial. I'm not commenting from afar on an ongoing trial.

But I stopped. I went to work. Then, coincidentally, I got a call from the media, asking for an interview on the Casey Anthony trial. I called back too late. They found someone else. I had no doubt. Lawyers have been chomping at the bit to comment on this case. Lawyers have turned commentary into careers. I didn't want to give the interview. Was it because both defense counsel Jose Baez and Cheney Mason are friends of mine? Partially. I believe in friendship and loyalty, and I'm not going to exchange my mug on national TV for a friendship. There are those that don't believe in friendship over their own ego.

But the main reason I didn't want to give the interview? The case is ongoing. I believe in fair trials, and I believe in the sanctity of the system. I know the jury is sequestered, but leaks happen. In a society where just being a lawyer makes one a "legal expert," I choose to take a pass.

In the legal profession it has always been taboo to attack one of your own, especially in your backyard. Many an out of town lawyer has been retained to go after a local lawyer because "no one in town will take the case." In Orlando, they all hate Jose Baez - the lawyers, and the media.

Some of the "reporting" by the local Orlando media is disgraceful. No one cares about fair trials anymore, it's all about the opinions, the "bombshells," and the guessing about what a jury will believe. Few of the commentators have ever tried a death penalty case, but no one asks, nor cares.

Of course I have opinions about the case, about what I see going on in court. But this is not theatre, this is not a punching bag for the local defense bar to hit throughout the day. Have some damn dignity, let the trial go on - tell the media that you will not be a part of the frenzy. You walk the halls of the criminal justice system and using a life or death moment for your own fame is indefensible.

You want to educate the public - do that. Do not use the time or microphone and camera to play contrarian to your brother of the bar just to gain favor with the vultures of the media that have already decided that the defendant is guilty.

This is the interview I will give. Any takers?

Non-anonymous comments welcome.Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter

Friday, June 03, 2011

I'll Miss Joel

It's an odd world in which we live that people we've never met, never spoken to on the phone, become our "friends." We read their words, comment on their thoughts, engage in typing wars, and never shake hands. Yet when he hear of harm or worse, death befalling one of these "virtual" friends" we are touched in the same way as if they were a neighbor.

I don't remember when I first "met" Joel Rosenberg. I remember reading a comment here and there that he would write on various blogs I read, and he'd even chime in on my blog(s). My first impression was that Joel and I were complete opposites. He, a passionate gun advocate, and I, well I hate guns.

I assumed Joel was a wacko, nut job, idiot who was probably anti-defense, until I was quickly disabused of all of those thoughts. I learned Joel was an accomplished author, a brilliant mind, well read and passionate not only about Amendment 2, but also 4, 5, and 6.

Joel was a welcome commentator in the criminal law blogosphere, a place where well thought out comments from the citizenry is often lacking. Joel would agree, disagree, present another viewpoint, but always have an intelligent thought behind anything he argued. A rarity online.

Joel died suddenly yesterday.

I learned this today, as I was sitting in court waiting to defend a client. Joel would have been happy to know I was there.

Joel was the author of Everything You Need to Know About (Legally) Carrying a Handgun in Minnesota. He asked to include some passages from an e-book I wrote. In a profane response, I advised him that he need not seek my permission to do this, that it was my honor. But Joel didn't do things that way. He liked respect, getting, and giving it. There were laws and rules, and as he taught people to follow them, he wanted to follow them too, even if the laws revolved around copyright.

I will miss Joel, as will others.

My condolences go out to his beloved Felicia, and his daughters Judith Eleanor, and Rachel Hannah.

I leave you with what I believe sums up JDog. R.I.P. good man.

Non-anonymous comments welcome.Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter