Tag Archives: Florida

Singularly Unwelcome?

Whether an O.J. Simpson fan or not, think he was over-charged and unfairly sentenced in his robbery and kidnapping conviction or not, I must say this headline raised my eyebrows.

Florida AG Pam Bondi: O.J. Simpson not welcome in the Sunshine State

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/florida-ag-pam-bondi-oj-simpson-not-welcome-in-the-sunshine-state/article/2636177

I tried to think of any other time when a state’s highest justice official told a prison parolee to stay out of their state. (OK, so Bondi didn’t tell him to stay out, but in my book “not welcome” equals “don’t come.”

I know that orders to stay out of a state can be included in court orders as a condition of parole, but for a state’s attorney general to publicly disinvite someone after he’s released from prison on parole?

Do any of you know of a similar case?

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When Artists Are Too Good

Here’s something I didn’t understand. Even though multiple cameras photographed and broadcast the ’95 Simpson courtroom proceedings, news outlets still hired sketch artists, who also attended proceedings and illustrated trial participants like this one of Simpson, created by one of the best, Bill Robles, that ran recently on Hollywood LAist‘s website.

It didn’t matter to me, except when artists were too good. Accurate likenesses of trial participants was not a problem, except for those of jurors. In all states except Florida that allow courtroom camera coverage, jurors’ faces may not be photographed or broadcast live or video.

Many of the illustrations of Simpson jurors were so accurate their friends, relatives and coworkers recognized them when they appeared in print or on air.

Trial judge Lance Ito’s request that the artists change jurors’ features and hairstyles in their illustrations and to have their drawings cleared by me before they gave them to news outlets wasn’t 100-percent effective.

After Ito saw a TV news report with yet another illustration of easily identifiable jurors, he summoned the artist, Bill Robles, to appear in court to explain how the media got a picture that was too accurate.

“… I was concerned because as you know the court has ordered the use of an anonymous jury in this case and that California Rules of Court 980 prohibits the depiction of jurors. … [Your] depictions were too close to what we have in the jury box.”

“I think there might have been a problem,” Robles’ lawyer Beth Fenley replied. “… although he’s trying to have all of his drawings cleared by your representative, he has not been able to connect with her on all occasions, and perhaps that is how one of the drawings was broadcast without someone else in the court seeing it.”

Ito’s remedy, I as recall in Anatomy of a Trial, was to issue a written order for all artists to submit their drawings to him or to me for review before releasing them for publication or broadcast. He assured Robles and Finley that I was in the courthouse daily and “this court rarely leaves the courthouse before 6:00 in the evening every day, so we will be available to, in an expeditious manner, review any drawings that you want to use immediately that day.”

Then he went a step further. He had two stamps made– one for him and one for me — that looked like this:

I carried my stamp with me and made sure to connect with artists every time they left the courtroom. Some of their renderings continued to be too accurate, so I recommended that they draw ovals to represent jurors’ heads. Although they weren’t happy — I’m sure professional pride was a factor — that seemed to resolve the issue.

No Déja Vu to Everyone

News reports and opinion pieces have been full of comparisons between the George Zimmerman and O.J. Simpson trials on murder charges. I jumped on that bandwagon with my “Déja Vu All Over Again” post on this blog.

A good friend and the most experienced and knowledgeable non-lawyer person on courtroom proceedings I know, however, begged to differ.

Other than public perception, she said, there is no comparison between the two trials.

I certainly agree that public perception is a common denominator and huge factor in measuring the Zimmerman trial against Simpson’s. But I believe other similarities are present, too.

One is the prosecution’s less than stellar, even ineffectual, performance. Another is that both defendants had juries of their peers so far as racial makeup is concerned. Both trials were highly emotional, polarizing, fraught with the role racism played or might have played in the case, and both were scored by a wide swath of media and pundits as if they were sporting events.

Unlike sporting events, however, in which few other than team fans care much about the outcome, just about everybody who knew about Nicole Brown’s and Ron Goldman’s murders and Simpson’s trial, and the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman’s trial have strong feelings/opinions about the verdicts in those cases.

My friend asserted that Florida law was the cause of acquittal. Certainly, Zimmerman’s claim of self defense was the crux of the case his lawyers presented and of jury instructions. Lost, not considered or even absent, though, was Trayvon Martin’s need, attempt or right to defend himself.

The question that should be asked, my friend said, is what would have happened under that law if a black man were the aggressor and a white man were being followed.

That prompted me to contemplate the few known facts in the Zimmerman case, which are that a white man followed a black teenager, even though police told him not to, a confrontation occurred, the white man who had a loaded gun shot the black teen dead.

Both had the right to be where they were. The teen had the right to be doing what he was doing, i.e. walking on the street. The man had the right to be doing what he was doing, i.e. following the teen, even though police told him not to.

Both, under Florida law, had a right to defend themselves.

The jury heard Zimmerman’s testimony, albeit via his statements to police investigators, but without the benefit of cross examination (i.e. a single-source story). The jury heard no testimony from Trayvon Martin.

Once defense lawyers were permitted to portray Martin as a wanna-be gangster and use photos of what they promoted as his gang symbols and of his well-defined musculature, which were as unrelated to the trial as was Zimmerman’s record of his past brushes with law, which apparently was not admissible, they successfully fertilized the seeds of fear that are planted in the vast majority of Southern white females — and I was one — in early childhood.

Thus, instead of responding like prosecutors apparently thought they would, i.e. mothers sympathetic to what the prosecution planned to present as an unarmed teenager — who very well could have been one of their children — walking home from buying candy and a drink being stalked and shot by a wanna-be cop, those five white and one Hispanic female jurors saw him as the young thug the defense turned him into. The kind of young thug they had been conditioned to fear and who, no doubt, break into the houses of people like them.

Once the defense morphed Martin into the bad guy, he lost all credibility and any right to defend himself.

So, what would have happened under the Florida law if a black man were the aggressor and a white man were being followed? One finding cited in a Tampa Bay Times story is, “Defendants claiming ‘stand your ground’ are more likely to prevail if the victim is black. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white.”

The story is at http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/florida-stand-your-ground-law-yields-some-shocking-outcomes-depending-on/1233133.

I was struck earlier today by another similarity. This one between Zimmerman and, not Simpson, but the lynching more than eight decades ago of three black teenagers who were arrested on suspicion of murder. A Sanford, Florida, resident said in an interview aired this morning on NPR, “We need to move on.” That was the theme of a newspaper editorial in the wake of those lynchings more than 80 years ago.

Barring Trial Witnesses as Spectators is SOP

Why should anyone — particularly George Zimmerman Jr.’s father who is a judge, or was before he retired — be surprised or outraged that witnesses in the trial are barred as courtroom spectators until after they have testified?

“In a statement released by Zimmerman’s family his attorney Don West ‘made it abundantly clear to the jury the limitations the rule of sequestration places upon Mr. and Mrs. Zimmerman’s ability to support their son George with their presence. Our parents were in the courtroom and determined to support their son, but the State of Florida prevented them from doing so. George can count on his parents’ and his family’s unwavering and unconditional support, as he has throughout this ordeal, until he is acquitted.’

“Robert Zimmerman, Sr. had mainly stayed out of the media spotlight until recently releasing an e-book titled Florida v. Zimmerman: Uncovering the Malicious Prosecution of my Son, George, which attempts to uncover the injustice of his son’s murder trial and labels organizations like the NAACP and the NBA America’s ‘true racists.’

George Zimmerman’s Parents Barred From Courtroom, Trayvon Martin’s Family Allowed To Stay

http://www.mediaite.com/tv/george-zimmermans-parents-barred-from-courtroom-trayvon-martins-family-allowed-to-stay/

“Zimmerman’s family was barred from the courtroom as the state claimed they may be witnesses later in the trial. Under Florida state law, Martin’s family was permitted to sit in the gallery as relatives of the alleged victim. Robert Zimmerman Jr. issued a statement to The Huffington Post on behalf of his family.

“’Mr. West made it abundantly clear to the jury the limitations the rule of sequestration places upon Mr. & Mrs. Zimmerman’s ability to support their son George with their presence. Our parents were in the courtroom & determined to support their son but the State of Florida prevented them from doing so. George can count on his parents’ & his family’s unwavering & unconditional support, as he has throughout this ordeal, until he is acquitted.’”

George Zimmerman Trial Live Updates: Testimony Continues In Trayvon Martin Shooting Case

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/25/george-zimmerman-trial_n_3495266.html?1372170554&ncid=wsc-dl-cards-readmore

What is surprising to me is that Zimmerman’s attorney indicates that his parents being barred is related in some way to the jury being sequestered. My understanding is that they would be barred even if the jury weren’t sequestered. And if Zimmerman’s attorney, Don West, is implying that if the jury weren’t sequestered the jurors would somehow know by media reports or otherwise that the elder Zimmermans were barred from the courtroom and why. If jurors were to learn something like that other than via on-the-record statements made in their presence in the courtroom, they would be violating the trial judge’s admonition to not read, listen to or watch any thing related to the case not presented to them in court.

While the news media have an obligation or responsibility to explain to their consumers why the Zimmermans are barred from the courtroom, I question reporting it as if it were unusual or that the Zimmermans think it’s unfair without  accurately and objectively contextualizing it.

2-to-4 Week Sequestration Not as Bad as 9 Months

In a departure from Florida SOP court rules, which allow photography of jurors, the six women who will make up George Zimmerman’s 2nd degree-murder trial jury and the two male and two female alternate jurors will remain nameless, faceless and sequestered for the estimated two-to-four week duration of the trial.

George Zimmerman Jury Selected: All Women Jurors Chosen In Trial Of Trayvon Martin Killer  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/20/george-zimmerman-jury-_n_3474181.html

As much public interest as there is in this case, it is far from being the most high-profile of trials in Florida, and considering that state’s very liberal policy allowing jurors to be photographed and shown on TV, the trial judge’s ruling for the jury to be anonymous and sequestered probably says more about the high emotion and potential for violent repercussion than it does about the saturation of media coverage.

While being separated from their families and isolated from normal everyday life isn’t a great situation for even a few days, at least the two to four weeks of sequestration these jurors and alternates face pales in comparison to the more than nine months the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial jurors endured.

Those jurors’ ordeal and the headaches they created for the Simpson court are detailed in Chapter 8, “Who’s to Judge?”, of Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O.J. Simpson, which is now available in e-format at:

It will be interesting to see how this trial turns out and how the jurors copy.

Zimmerman Jurors on Camera

Florida is the only state that allows photography/video of jurors.

George Zimmerman trial live streaming video: Watch courtroom cameras as jury selection continues  http://www.wptv.com/dpp/news/national/george-zimmerman-trial-live-streaming-video-watch-courtroom-cameras-as-jury-selection-continues#ixzz2WbciKbdd

The first time I became aware of that was watching TV coverage of the 1991 William Kennedy Smith rape trial in Palm Beach County.

Justice Delayed — For Most

Three recent news stories got me thinking about access to the justice system in this country and how it changes according to the value people — primarily taxpayers  and those who should be paying taxes but find ways to not — place on it, public policy and the ability of people who want or need access to pay for it. First is a story about two divorce filings, one in New York, the other in Los Angeles. The New York divorce was initiated by Rupert Murdoch, whose filing reportedly says, “the relationship between the husband and wife has broken down irretrievably.” He’s calling it quits with China-born, Yale-educated Wendi Deng, his wife of 14 years, whose fierce presence at his side — including her slapping a cream pie-tossing Murdoch non-fan — achieved prominence during 2011 UK Parliamentary hearings into asserted malfeasance of his news holdings in Great Britain. In Los Angeles, Miley Cyrus parents Billy Ray and Laeticia “Tish” are ending their nearly 20-year-union. Billy Ray Cyrus, Rupert Murdoch both headed to divorce court: Favorite People  http://www.oregonlive.com/celebrity-news/index.ssf/2013/06/favorite_people_16.html My guess is that both divorces will slide smoothly through the courts and be finalized expeditiously. The second story  is about the Los Angeles court system where one of those divorces was filed. It says 511 court employees are being laid off and others demoted in yet round of another bone-hacking budget cuts, thanks to California’s a years-long campaign to decrease court funding, as a result of the state’s devastating budget woes in the first decade of the 21st Century.

L.A. County Court to complete elimination of 511 court-related jobs Friday  http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_23447474/l-county-court-complete-elimination-511-court-related This after other deep cost-cutting measures.

A South L.A. gang intervention and prevention worker said when the Kenyon Juvenile Justice Center was one of eight regional courthouses slated for closure as part of dealing with an $85 million shortfall, that he worried about how that would affect not only the youths the Center serves, but crime rates. “If you shut these courts down,” [the worker] said, “where’s the justice going to come from? It’s going to come from the street.”
Court closure expected to mean trouble for at-risk youths  http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/21/local/la-me-court-protest-20130422
The third story concerns a bill Florida governor Rick Scott signed into law, called the “Timely Justice Act”, “requires governors to sign death warrants 30 days after the Florida Supreme Court certifies that an inmate has exhausted his legal appeals and his clemency review. Once a death warrant is signed, the new law requires the state to execute the defendant within six months.” Scott, in defense of the law, said it will “’fast track’ death penalty cases” and “’discourages stalling tactics’ of defense attorneys and ensures that the convicted ‘do not languish on death row for decades.’”
Gov. Rick Scott signs bill to speed up executions in Florida  http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/06/14/3451849/gov-rick-scott-signs-bill-to-speed.html

This in the midst of ongoing allegations that Florida has the most abysmal record in the country of defense attorneys for capital punishment defendants http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/497/this-week?act=6#play.
And never mind that dozens if not hundreds of death row inmates have been exonerated years and even decades after their convictions.
So, yes, access to justice can certainly be capricious in the U.S.