Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Even in high-profile cases, the Rules still apply

As lawyers, we can get as wrapped up as anyone else in the latest media-hyped news. Often the news is law-related, giving us the chance to consider what lessons we can draw from these events.

The story surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin is one example. A couple weeks ago, lawyers for George Zimmerman, the man now formally accused of second-degree murder, publicly withdrew their representation in a press conference. Such a “noisy withdrawal” may have costly consequences under the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct.

Specifically, Rule 1.6 prohibits a lawyer from disclosing client confidences. And, Rule 1.16 outlines the reasons a lawyer may terminate representation and mandates that a “lawyer may withdraw from representing a client if withdrawal can be accomplished without material adverse effect on the interests of the client.”

Many reasonable people might make a negative assumption about a lawyer’s withdrawal from a case without any statements he or she might make as part of the action. Zimmerman’s attorneys arguably took this danger much further. The (arguably) negative portrayal of Zimmerman and the public revelation of unfavorable details about their attorney-client relationship could have a devastating impact on his case.

Zimmerman would have been better painted as someone who is confident, alert, and interested in his defense. Instead, they have arguably painted a picture of someone unstable and running scared and, as a result, potentially helped to taint the jury pool should the case go to trial.

In contrast to Mr. Zimmerman’s situation, former presidential candidate John Edwards’ case has seen a lot of turnover during its pendency. But each defense lawyer withdrawal — about four at this point — only came with a court filing, never a press conference. As a result, it seems that despite many very unfavorable details, the outcome of Edwards’ case still seems unpredictable. In any event, we’ll learn the fate of both men soon.

As we get caught up in the latest headlines and become “talking heads” with our friends or loved ones at home, we might step back and consider how these situations might inform our own cases. And, before making any important decision impacting our clients, make sure we consult the Rules.