On Tuesday , April 11, 2012, the so-called former attorneys of George Zimmerman announced to the media, and thus the public at large, they were withdrawing from further representation of the man under investigation for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.
Although attorneys have the ability to withdraw from cases under certain circumstances and although there really wasn’t an actual case to withdraw from as of Tuesday, questions remain regarding the decision to publicly disclose certain matters which may have the potential to negatively impact the defense.
The Rules Regulating the Florida Bar and the Rules of Professional Conduct require an attorney to maintain confidentiality in all but very limited circumstances. Questions have been raised as to whether attorneys Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner had the permission of their client to disclose such matters as his alleged current mental state, his refusal or unwillingness to maintain contact, and his reluctance and/or refusal to follow advice of counsel.
Certainly, there are many circumstances where the mental state of an accused is most relevant when presenting a defense and may ultimately may need to be disclosed in court. However, disclosure of an alleged post-traumatic disorder condition to the media prior to any charging decision is, by some accounts, most unorthodox and potentially damaging to the defense case.
Additionally, questions have been raised as to whether or not disclosing to the public that Mr. Zimmerman has discontinued all contact with his attorneys may be used as ammunition by the State of Florida to secure a high bond due to alleged risk of flight if they charge him with a criminal offense. One of the predictors of low flight risk typically includes the fact that the accused has retained counsel, has maintained contact, and has established that they will make themselves available at a moment’s notice if their presence is required. Disclosure of the lack of contact may have an unintended adverse impact on the decision to set a reasonable bond or conditions of release.
According to an NBC news report, former attorney Sonner also disclosed he initially agreed to provide representation pro bono and that he had not even met with Mr. Zimmerman face to face. Again, disclosure of financial arrangements is not typically the kind of information released to the public.
Yesterday, the State filed charges alleging Murder in the 2nd degree. It is now clear that Mr. Zimmerman has new counsel, has been in constant contact with his counsel, and has made arrangements to make himself available to the authorities. These actions all contradict the prior representations of his former counsel. Hopefully, Mr. Zimmerman now has a defense attorney that will actually represent the interests of his client.