George Zimmerman’s lawyer told a court Friday that he was forced to embark on an unprecedented public defense of his client via social media, because of overwhelming negative publicity in the first weeks of the case.
Orlando attorney Mark O’Mara said on the first day after he took the case, he woke up to find 75 reporters outside his door and 2,000 emails in his inbox. His phone and email systems crashed.
He said he had to do something novel to meet the media’s demand and dig his client out from the avalanche of bad press.
O’Mara made the arguments Friday at a hearing in Sanford before Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson, who is expected to rule Monday on whether a gag order should be issued in the case.
Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda asked Nelson to muzzle O’Mara, because his law firm website, Twitter account and frequent media interviews amount to tainting the jury pool.
“How far do we go?” de la Rionda asked Nelson. “Are we going to have a back and forth every day? Competing news conferences? Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen in the courtroom?”
The Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel newspapers objected, saying the state did not meet the tough standard set by the Supreme Court on when a lawyer should be silenced.
O’Mara countered de la Rionda by noting that only 157,000 unique visitors have gone to his website, www.gzlegalcase.com – and less than half of one percent of them is in Central Florida.
He insisted that he only conducted such a public defense on behalf of his client, because Benjamin Crump and Natalie Jackson, lawyers for Trayvon Martin’s parents, made the case a national story. Their goal, he said, was a “pot of gold,” – not necessarily justice.
Crump and Jackson helped publicize the Feb. 26 killing of Trayvon, an unarmed 17-year-old Miami Gardens teenager who was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer who found the teen suspicious. Zimmerman later said he was attacked by Trayvon and shot in self defense.
When Sanford Police declined to press charges, Crump took the story to the media. The governor later stepped in and appointed a special prosecutor, who charged Zimmerman with second degree murder.
Crump’s “plan was to completely sway national opinion to allege the story that my client committed this heinous act,” O’Mara said. “He has decided to take a story and, I would argue, spin it.”
O’Mara suggested that the case was filed for political reasons, which strengthens his right to speak out against the charges. The defense lawyer said he did not just have a right to speak publicly about the case – but an obligation to his client.
Although gag orders in high profile cases are not unprecedented, they are generally difficult to obtain.
Nelson said she will rule Monday.