Were Zimmerman's Lawyers the Ones Going Rogue?

George Zimmerman's former attorneys say their client has gone rogue, which may be true, but they're the ones whose professional conduct is baffling legal experts.

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George Zimmerman's former attorneys say their client has gone rogue, which may be true, but they're the ones whose professional conduct is baffling legal experts. On Tuesday, Florida attorneys Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner took the unusual step of holding a press conference to announce they were no longer representing the man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. "He's gone on his own," said Sonner. "I cannot go forward speaking to the public about George Zimmerman and this case as representing him because I've lost contact with him." During the presser, they said Zimmerman was unstable, possibly suffering from post-traumatic stress and they revealed they had never actually met him. Here's why legal experts say Uhrig and Sonner's display yesterday was perhaps even more surprising than Zimmerman's defiant behavior:

Holding the press conference in the first place Every day lawyers drop their clients for some reason or another but it's almost always done with a quiet no frills resignation in deference to the client. Speaking with the AP's Kyle Hightower, Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. Attorney in Miami, said Uhrig and Sonner's decision to hold a news conference was baffling. "The lawyers have every right to withdraw, but it's highly unusual," he said. "In the court of public opinion, the press conference was not helpful for George Zimmerman."

Speculating on Zimmerman's mental state  One of the most controversial aspects of Tuesday's presser was the attorneys' statements that Zimmerman was "emotionally crippled" and possibly suffering from PTSD. "It's unbelievable that you would get on television and talk about your client's mental state," Jose Baez, a criminal defense attorney told CNN last night. "What you have here, as an attorney, you have an ethical obligation to not only not post attorney-client communication but attorney-client confidence. Things you learn in the process of representing a client are considered confidential so any conversations they have are completely protected and the holder of this privilege is George Zimmerman ... It's reprehensible."

The timing According to the two attorneys, they decided to go public after not hearing from Zimmerman on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. To legal analyst Mark Geragos, less than three days is way too soon to start holding a presser. "This may be the height of chutzpah for criminal defense lawyers to say we haven’t talked to our clients for two days so therefore we’re withdrawing," he said. "By the way there’s no court case filed, so there’s nothing to withdraw from, number one." Speaking with CNN, Garagos added "This is frankly one of the most outrageous things I’ve witnessed.”
Flight Risk The fact that the attorneys say they lost contact with Zimmerman has immediately raised suspicions that Zimmeran is a flight risk even though they said they believed he was not planning on leaving the country. That could very well urge the prosecutor to move the case against Zimmerman along more quickly. This morning, CNN invited the lawyers on to defend themselves. “Some of the critics said by dropping his representation you perhaps might have exposed him to some fears on behalf of the prosecutor that she needs to make a move and arrest him because who else can they call to track down your client. Are you concerned about that?” asked CNN's Ashleigh Banfield. “The idea that suddenly because we announced that we can’t communicate with our client that he’s going to flee the country, frankly, is just silliness,” said Uhrig. Clearly, these guys have some more questions to answer. Wach the whole clip of their defense below:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.