Zimmerman Defense Invites Public Scrutiny of Media Policy

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Monday morning we sent this email to a person who has offered support to the defense, and since then it has been widely circulated on the web:

All this week we'll be preparing to defend ourselves against the State's renewed motion for a Gag Order. We're confident that everything we've posted, and everything we've said publicly is proper and well within our rights, but we know that on Friday, the State is likely to find the most questionable thing Mark's said and present it to the Court. I'd like to ask if you and other supporters could help us scour the web and, strange as it may sound, send us links to the most potentially questionable statements we have made during this process. Again, we're confident ALL our statements are easily defendable, we just want to know what we're likely to have thrown back at us.

Although we originally intended for the message to be private, we feel the message is sound, and since it has been made public, we extend the invitation to anyone who has an interest to participate: send us a link to any statement the defense has made publicly about the case that you think is inappropriate.

When we set our communications policy, we knew we would be under intense public scrutiny, and we are confident the whole of our efforts will stand up to that scrutiny well.

You can submit links via the commenting below, or you can tweet a link and reference the @gzlegalcase handle.

Regarding Robert Zimmerman Jr.'s Media Campaign and Twitter Comments

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Regarding Robert Zimmerman Jr.'s media campaign and Twitter comments, Robert is acting on behalf of his family, and he is not acting with the approval or the input of the defense team. We're naturally concerned about anyone associated with the case speaking publicly, because there is always a risk that their comments could complicate our defense efforts. The Zimmerman family has been through a lot, and they have been frequently misrepresented in the media, so we do not begrudge Robert for wanting to speak out and set the record straight.

Race and the George Zimmerman Case

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In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel posted September 29, 2012, Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump describes race as the “elephant in the room” in the George Zimmerman case.

The term “elephant in the room” typically describes something that people won’t talk about -- despite how obvious and apparent it is. This term is misapplied in this case. Mr. Crump has led a chorus of voices in drawing attention to the race factor in the George Zimmerman case, including comments from the President of the United States. While it can be safely argued that it is largely the question of civil rights issues that has made the George Zimmerman case a national -- and international -- story, there is nothing to support the contention of racism in the Zimmerman case.

The real “elephant in the room,” however, is that race should not be a factor in the George Zimmerman case, and should never have been made one.

Here are Benjamin Crump’s full remarks:

"It shouldn’t be about race. But race is the elephant in the room. Nobody believes that if you make Trayvon Martin white [and the Neighborhood Watch volunteer black], there’s no way he would not be arrested, and that’s the unfortunate and tragic truth of the matter. There is a double standard. That’s why race is involved in this case.”

Let’s forget for a moment that George Zimmerman is Hispanic, not white. What Mr. Crump is saying is that race is an issue in the George Zimmerman case because, he insists, that if a black man shot a white person in a similar situation, the black man would have been immediately arrested. This is not an indictment of George Zimmerman; this is fundamentally an accusation that the Sanford Police Department acted in a racist way, and that perhaps the criminal justice system at large is biased against black men.

The truth is that there is credible evidence that black men are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and that is evidence of an underlying problem. Mark O’Mara and Don West have each spent a career in criminal defense fighting against racial bias in the justice system that affected many of their clients. This is something that needs to be discussed as a nation, and if this case has brought that conversation to the forefront, then now is the time to have that conversation.

Mr. Crump is right in talking about the George Zimmerman case when he says: “It shouldn’t be about race.” But by projecting race onto the George Zimmerman case, Mr. Crump is pinning a supposed civil rights victory on a Zimmerman conviction. The problem is that by associating a Zimmerman conviction with a civil rights victory, Mr. Crump has framed a scenario where a Zimmerman victory in a Self-Defense Immunity Hearing or a Zimmerman acquittal will represent a civil rights defeat. That is inappropriate and dangerous to us as a nation.

The Zimmerman defense team is not arguing against civil rights. We are defending a man who claims he shot and killed an attacker in necessary self-defense. If Mr. Crump believes that the Sanford Police Department acted with bias during their investigation, then he should demand a comprehensive conclusion from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), which conducted an exhaustive investigation into the matter of whether SPD conducted a proper investigation. If Mr. Crump believes that George Zimmerman’s actions were racially motivated, he should demand a comprehensive conclusion from the FBI, which conducted an exhaustive investigation on whether there is evidence that George acted with a racial bias. In that request, we join him.

However, if the FDLE conclusions point to an adequate, non-racially biased investigation from the Sanford Police Department, and if the FBI investigation concludes that George Zimmerman did not violate Trayvon Martin’s civil rights by acting in a racially biased way, then Mr. Crump should acknowledge that the George Zimmerman case is not about race, and he should focus his efforts on a case where a black man has been wrongfully arrested for murder in a clear case of self-defense, and he should champion that cause. To that, we would lend our support and our efforts.

Zimmerman Defense Begins Discovery Process

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The Defense has begun its own discovery process now that the State has delivered substantially all of its discovery in the case against George Zimmerman. To date, there are still a number of items that the State has not submitted to the Defense that we feel are relevant to the case. We will be seeking these items and evidence through all appropriate means.

Our first request is a series of Subpoenas for Production of Documents requesting school records for Trayvon Martin. In the coming weeks, we will be issuing subpoenas for other items including potentially relevant data from social media platforms, reports related to chain of custody to key evidence, interviews and more.

It has become our practice to post to our website legal documents related the case as they become public record, and this will continue to be the case with our discovery requests. Moreover, any discovery we submit that becomes public record will also be posted on our website. In the case of Trayvon Martin’s school records, they are protected and will NOT be part of the public record, without appropriate court order.

Defense Closing the George Zimmerman Legal Case Page on Facebook

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Today we are inactivating the George Zimmerman Legal Case page on Facebook. We established the page in late April as a companion to the website and @gzlegalcase Twitter account. On April 28, we published an article called “Why Social Media for George Zimmerman,” where we established seven goals for our digital media presence. While Facebook helped meet most of these goals during the first three months of its activation, it has been providing diminishing returns since and has increasingly become a concern to us.

How Facebook Helped Achieve Our Goals

Regarding our goals of Disputing Misinformation, Providing a Voice for Mr. Zimmerman, and Raising Funds, Facebook served to amplify the messages we posted on the website. For three of our other goals, however, Facebook served a more crucial role:

1. Discrediting and Eliminating Fraudulent Websites and Social Profiles

In April and May there were a number of false George Zimmerman profiles on Facebook, and there were a number of unofficial support pages. By establishing an “official” page on Facebook we were able to discredit the false profiles and establish that unofficial support pages were not associated with the defense. Now, months later, false George Zimmerman profiles are rare, and remaining unofficial Zimmerman support pages are understood not to be endorsed by us. Consequently, we no longer require our page on Facebook to meet this goal.

2. Providing a Forum for Communication With the Law Firm

In the first weeks after we took on the defense of Mr. Zimmerman, our offices were deluged with phone calls, emails, and correspondence. Our presence on Facebook provided an appropriate and accessible way for people to ask questions and express opinions in a place where they were heard, while not being disruptive to our practice. Today, the demand to communicate with our firm regarding this case has subsided and is now more manageable, and we no longer require our page on Facebook to serve this purpose.

3. Acknowledging the Larger Significance of the Case

While we have been focused on Mr. Zimmerman’s legal defense, we acknowledge that the public interest in this matter revolves around racial tensions, gun rights, media’s treatment of people involved in this case, and various other considerations. We felt it was appropriate to focus our attention only on facts and issues specifically relevant to the case, and we spoke rarely regarding the larger issues surrounding the case. However, during this time, conversations about these issues appeared in the threads associated with our posts on Facebook, and when appropriate, we allowed them to stand as an acknowledgment to the larger issues at play. However, moving forward, we will address these issues in more appropriate forums, and we no longer need the page on Facebook to fill this role.

How Facebook Has Not Helped

One of our published goals is Discouraging Speculation, and Facebook, by its nature, does not help us with this goal. Every post made on Facebook becomes an open thread where anyone on the site can comment, and comments inevitably lead to conversations about evidence and speculation about guilt or innocence. This type of conversation is a natural part of discourse, and there are plenty of places on the Internet where it is appropriate for this to happen, but it need not happen on a page hosted by the defense.

This illustrates our biggest challenge with the page on Facebook: we cannot post without allowing comments. With comments active, each thread becomes a discussion forum. While we are not responsible for the comments people leave on our page, because we have the ability to delete comments, what we choose not to delete reflects on the defense team. Since we can ban users from posting on the page, who we choose not to ban reflects on the defense team. Admittedly, it does not always reflect well, and that is a concern for the defense. Because our page on Facebook has already accomplished many of our goals, allowing this concern to exist is not prudent.

A Word About Zimmerman Supporters on Facebook

Periodically we have asked the supporters on the page on Facebook why they support George Zimmerman. They tell us George has their support because they believe he was the victim of a coordinated public relations attack. Many believe George was treated unfairly by the news media. Many also believe George acted properly in self-defense. They empathize with George because of the position he finds himself in, and they fear it could happen to them.

It has been suggested that George Zimmerman supporters are racially motivated. For the vast majority of George Zimmerman supporters, this is not true; however, we have banned a very small number of users for making any comment that seemed negative toward race. The irony is that if these people truly understood Mr. Zimmerman’s diverse ethnicity, George Zimmerman himself could be a target of their negativity. Certainly we acknowledge that this case has led to an uncovering of, and at times a polarizing of, race-based feelings in our community and throughout our nation. We will not let the George Zimmerman Legal Case page on Facebook be a part of any such agenda, and we do not want the handful of those so inclined to reflect negatively on the overwhelming majority of individuals who support Mr. Zimmerman for legitimate reasons.

It should be noted that many of the people who have shown legitimate support for Mr. Zimmerman on the page on Facebook have received threats and have been harassed online, yet they have continued to voice their support. Those supporters have our sincere thanks.

Moving Forward

A link to this article will be our last post on Facebook for the foreseeable future. We will leave the post up until the end of the day, at which time the George Zimmerman Legal Case page on Facebook will be unpublished. We are reserving the ability to reactivate it in the future should it be appropriate or necessary.

We will continue to include the Facebook “Like” button on each article we publish on the website which allows the content to circulate widely through individual’s news feeds on Facebook.

In the near future, we will be making upgrades to the website to make it easier for people interested in the case to ask questions and to share information with the legal team.