Memo To Defense Attorneys: When In Doubt, Shut Up
This week I watched, with some amusement, as an associate navigated an encounter with the media. No clients were harmed, but she emerged indignant.
Some criminal defense attorneys believe that media relations is essential to an effective defense. I'm a skeptic. I think that very, very few clients are helped by engagement with the media. I think that in most cases, the putative benefits or media engagement (getting your message out, or driving the narrative) are substantially outweighed by the risks. Those risks include (1) increasing negative attention to your client, (2) accidentally saying something stupid or harmful to your client, and (3) being misquoted, or quoted out of context, by journalists with a tenuous grasp of law who don't care about due process and favor drama over precision.
Eric Lipman at Legal Blog Watch offers a prime example of why I feel this way. When his client Marc Payen was accused of immigration fraud in connection with allegedly taking money based on false promises to file requests for asylum, attorney D. Andrew Marshall tried, and failed miserably, to engage the press to make things better:
"This is a nonviolent felony offense. If certain services were supposedly rendered that were not rendered, then the individuals who paid for the services may very well be entitled to their money back. Whether a crime was committed is another story," said Payen's attorney D. Andrew Marshall.
Perhaps D. Andrew Marshall was disastrously misquoted, which is why he emerges sounding incoherent. That's completely foreseeable in dealing with the press. Or maybe he really just did say something that sounds, depending on how you read it, like he's suggesting his client committed a felony.
Rule One applies to lawyers as well as clients: the best course is to shut up.
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