April 10th, 2012
07:19 PM ET

Toobin: Lawyers' 'bizarre' announcement no help to Zimmerman

Tuesday's announcement by two lawyers that they're no longer representing George Zimmerman was a "bizarre episode" that might prompt a special prosecutor to move up her decision on whether to arrest him, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said.

The special prosecutor is trying to determine whether to charge the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer, who claimed he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February in self-defense.

“That was certainly one of the wackiest news conferences I have ever seen," Toobin said about Tuesday's announcement by attorneys Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner that they have withdrawn as counsel for Zimmerman. The attorneys said that they still believe Zimmerman's self-defense claim, but that they can't represent him because Zimmerman hasn't answered their messages since Sunday.

"I think they are obviously concerned about his well-being, but they are also, I think, potentially setting him up for an earlier arrest than they might have, because one of the reasons a prosecutor doesn't arrest someone right away is that the prosecutor is assured by the counsel that, 'Look, he'll surrender. He's not going anywhere,' " Toobin said. "At this point the lawyers don't know what he's doing, don't know where he is, and the prosecutor may say, ‘Look, I’d better arrest this person or he's going to be in the wind.’

"So I think this bizarre episode might accelerate the prosecutor's timetable if, in fact, she's going to arrest him.”

Police say Zimmerman fatally shot Martin, who was African-American, on February 26 in Sanford, Florida, as Martin was walking home from a convenience store. Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, had called 911 to complain about a suspicious person in the neighborhood.

Zimmerman told Sanford police the shooting was self-defense, and Zimmerman was released without charges. Authorities have said Zimmerman was not immediately charged because there were no grounds, at the outset, to disprove his account that he'd acted to protect himself.

But thousands have converged on Sanford to join in protests calling for Zimmerman's arrest and criticizing the police department's handling of the case, and a special prosecutor in Florida is investigating the case.

Toobin said he found it troubling that Uhrig and Sonner felt obliged to withdraw from the case so publicly.

"They make their client look like a lunatic, and they could have communicated this information to the prosecutor who, after all, is the most important person here," Toobin said. "I don't think they did George Zimmerman a great service by spelling this out in such extraordinary detail when they could have simply just gone into the prosecutor and said, ‘Hey, look, we don't represent this guy anymore.’ So I think that's a troubling question of legal ethics on their part."

Toobin said attorneys are not obliged to participate with clients who are actively ignoring their advice or refusing to be in contact with them. And he noted that the attorneys had not entered a notice of appearance that officially would have made them Zimmerman's attorneys in the case.

"But the real issue, it seems to me, is where is he? Because that's going to be something that the prosecutor is very concerned about," Toobin said. "She needs to know that if she wants to proceed with an arrest, she can find the guy. And the lawyers are quite clearly making the representation that they don't know where he is."

Sonner, who said he and Uhrig would resume representing Zimmerman if Zimmerman asked, said that he is "reasonably sure" that he knows where Zimmerman is, and that he was in the United States.

Legal analyst Sunny Hostin told CNN that she agreed with Toobin that the prosecutor will be concerned about where Zimmerman is. But she said that the lawyers' revelation Tuesday that the prosecutor hasn't yet interviewed Zimmerman may mean that no decision on charges will happen in the near future.

Toobin and B.J. Bernstein, who also is a legal commenter for CNN and HLN, took to social media to express their disbelief at how the news conference was handled.

[tweet https://twitter.com/JeffreyToobin/status/189818448392617986%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/JeffreyToobin/status/189824036849725442%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/bjbernstein/status/189817102541127680%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/bjbernstein/status/189821397365829632%5D

soundoff (642 Responses)
  1. DeadIIIRed

    You all are reading this the wrong way. The attorneys are no longer representing Zimmerman because he dropped contact with them, not because they feel he is guilty. The actions of the attorneys are bizarre, not Zimmerman. For all we know Zimmerman could have found alternative counsel. I mean my god, your client doesn't respond in two days and you publicly drop him? Doesn't matter though since Zimmerman probably will not be arrested. Even if he is he could let a rooster be his attorney and still be found innocent.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Hawaii

    I like Toobin the best of all legal experts CNN uses.
    I thought it was really bad taste to bring Marcia Clark into this. Why did they? b/c there is race involved? So what? She didn't even win her biggest case, and her statement about broken noses are always clearly visible were refuted by many right after she said it.
    I want CNN to go through all, or at least some, of the similar unarmed shootings in FL. Apparently SYG has covered some way worse looking cases, including an unarmed white man shot in front of his 8 yr old daughter trying to intervene on behalf of some teens in a park being harassed by an irate black man.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • james

      Irate black man, no, can't be true.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • drnight

      You might want to recheck that one. Even the mans daughter testified the "irate Black man" tried to back off before the struggle that lead to that shooting. Still the law sucks because people misunderstand its meaning.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael Vick©™

      I've heard about the case. I think the father and daughter were playing on the basketball court near where they live, and a kid was skateboarding nearby. He told him to play somewhere else, and some guy came in defense of the kid. The two adult fought and this guy shot the father dead in front of the daughter. Actually CNN did report it as an example of "Stand your Ground" turn fist fights into deadly gun fight.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • David Laubach

      I was really surprised they brought in Marcia Clark. I didn't even recognize her at first (thats a lot of plastic surgery there). What she can really add is anybody's guess, mine is it's the dumb down game for the audience.
      That was a stupid move by CNN.
      And I agree Toobin is perhaps one of the best analysts on TV, he certainly has a better background and more experience than most if not all so-called legal experts on TV.
      The press conference was bizarre and longer than most press conferences that are actually bearing new facts in a case.
      I believe there is movement in this case behind the scenes that we aren't privy to. And perhaps these two attorneys want to wash their hands of this case diligently while covering their own asses.

      April 11, 2012 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
  3. derriquestuckey

    @Michael Vick – No, it was actually intercepted from the Black Panther website. You guys are really getting out of hand.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael Vick©™

      What is a racist like you visiting black panther website for?

      April 10, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. J Wisdom

    Lets all wait around to arrest him until he kills someone else, himself, or even worse, others then himself..


    April 10, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. cas

    Zimmerman was not "..immediately charged because there were no grounds, at the outset, to disprove his account that he'd acted to protect himself."


    April 10, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Freddie Nerk

    The Prosecutor has not interviewed Zimmerman yet....then what the heck are they doing? Everytime I watch Fox News i see the Florida AG there attacking the Health care Law and yet in a simple murder case involving a black victim she is slow. Its time for a new Governor in Florida.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buster

      murder? black victim? ignoramus.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      What if there was no "black victim", only a "black assailant". What if Zimmerman is innocent and this was a case of self-defense? Will the black community burn, riot and kill people because they don't get to hang someone?

      April 10, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Michael Vick©™

    You bet your house Zimmerman will be arrested after this. If he didn't run then Angela Corey would have very difficult time announcing her decision. But Zimmerman's disappearance just made her job that much easier. She cannot risk Rodney King type of riots all over the country if she didn't arrest the man who murdered someone and ran away.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big Bubba

      Rodney king? Really? He's no roll model. And Florida will not stand for you animals burning down the town in some temper tantrum. More blacks will be shot and killed.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael Vick©™

      Maybe you don't know how to read. I said it won't come to that. Angela Corey wouldn't let that happen.

      And it's role model, not roll model.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rob

    Toobin, what are you going to say if the special prosecutor finds Zimmerman innocent and this to be a case of self-defense? Are you and the liberal press going to apologize for crucifing an innocent man?

    April 10, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • windrider2

      Prosecutors don't find anyone guilty or innocent; a jury does (or judge, if the defendant opts for a bench trial). Given the fact that the Sanford police did a horrible job, failing to collect significant physical evidence, not interviewing some witnesses, and telling other witnesses they didn't hear and/or see what they thought because it conflicted with Zimmerman's version, the Prosecutor may not have enough evidence to take Zimmerman to trial or to convict beyond reasonable doubt, although she could certainly make a strong argument for negligent homicide since Zimmerman initiated the entire incident and, by his own admission, initiated the confrontation with Martin who, under Stand Your Ground, had every right to defend himself against a burly armed guy who'd been stalking him.

      My guess is that there will be no charges filed against Zimmerman for lack of evidence. He'll be free to go his own way, at least until the next time he commits another violent assault (he already has three violent episodes on his record, and possibly more that we don't know about). I'm just hoping that Black community leaders will be able to calm the passionate anger that may follow. There are other ways to deal with Martin's murder; for one thing, the community should insist on an investigation of the Sanford police department, which has a long long history of sloppy police work with racist implications. Communications between the PD, the original prosecutor and Zimmerman's magistrate father should also be investigated. The Martins can also file a civil suit against Zimmerman.

      April 11, 2012 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
    • BMcGee

      Good post Windrider

      April 11, 2012 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  9. Buster

    Lets just have the race wars now and get it over with.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • jon

      Helter Skelter. I'll be hiding out in the desert with Charlie.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      "Lets just have the race wars now and get it over with."
      Buster, I don't know if you are black or white or whatever. But if you are a white male you better hope not. Blacks will stand together, Hispanics will stand together, Women will stand together. etc. The only people who will not riot/kill/burn/protest (stand together) are white males. We are too comfortable in our 3 bedroom 2 bath 2.5 child lives to jeopardize fighting back and being branded racists and losing everything we have worked 30 years for. Congrats, WE are the minority now and we can't win that war. Goodnight and Goodbye to the real America.

      April 11, 2012 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
  10. TriXen

    "If he wants us to come back as council, he will contact us."

    Don't expect that to happen any time soon. Not after you screwed him like this!

    April 10, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Buck

      He was screwed when he went to nut job Hannity

      April 11, 2012 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
  11. Smeesq

    Hypothetically, if Zimmerman had told his lawyers that he intended to flee the country if the prosecutor announces that she is charging him with a crime, then the attorneys are in a tough position. They cannot condone and participate in a crime (fleeing prosecution). On the other hand, they cannot reveal to the prosecutor or law enforcement that Zimmerman made such a statement, because they are bound by confidentiality. They also cannot talk to Zimmerman, since he is not answering their calls. So what choice did they have? If they continue to represent him, and he flees they will get their licenses yanked for assisting his flight or his intention to flee. This press conference was a way for them to resign in a way that Zimmerman will have to hear about. Gets the lawyers off the hook without harming the client or violating client confidentiality.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael Vick©™

      You're absolutely correct, Smeesq. I wrote this much earlier:

      Good point Cdog. Although this could have been done more discretely by the lawyers. If they want to protect themselves from malpractice, they didn't have to go public.

      If I had to form an educated guess, I'd say that George Zimmerman found out Angela Corey held a piece of evidence so overwhelming that his self defense will crumble. The lawyers found out about it, and Zimmerman took off against their advice. They went public so that they are not held accountable for Zimmerman's escape.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Talib

    It amazes me how American society use the word Hispanic like it is some kind of race. They are a linguistic group. There are black, white, mixed, and indigenous Hispanic and so forth
    Zimmerman is clearly a white man...who cares if he is Hispanic. Like that that is make the matter less racial

    April 10, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Juan

      You sir are correct for $1000

      April 10, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael Vick©™

      Good point. Most people don't realize that the correct term is Caucasian. Who cares if he's Hispanic, Jewish, German, Irish,...etc.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Chut Pata

    Bernstein: "you can withdraw from a case or be fired". Hmm, so Zimmerman lawyers did a "pre-emptive strike" in "self-defence"?

    April 10, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jon

    What's he need a lawyer for anyway? He hasn't even been charged with anything yet.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael Vick©™

      Did you know that the 13 year old boy who walked the dog who saw parts of the fight also hired a lawyer?

      April 10, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Freddie Nerk

      He needs a Lawyer to prevent him being arrested and convicted-someone died and this wannabee-cop needs to answer for it.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Freddie Nerk

    Rob-you are so pathetic. Teenage BLACK gets gunned down in a public street where he had business and you don't see this as murder? Zimmerman either gets arrested, charged and convicted or the public will mete out justice themselves. This is 2012 and we will not tolerate the racial killings of the past. Florida will burn if justice is trampled on. We need a new Governor in Florida.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael Vick©™

      I said it before and I'll say it again. Special prosecutor Angela Corey will not let the Rodney King riots happen. Her job is a lot easier now that Zimmerman made a run for it after talking to her. Rest assured, she will charge Zimmerman.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
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