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I have ever seen," Toobin said about Tuesday's announcement by attorneys Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner that they have withdrawn as counsel for Zimmerman.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. cnndoug


    The report states that George Zimmerman's gun "was placed into evidence" and not returned to him, and the scene of the shooting was secured with crime scene tape. This directly conflicts with statements made by civil rights activists, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, who had claimed the Sanford, Fla., police department "didn't even bother to put yellow tape around the murder scene when he died—that's how much the police did to find out what happened to this young boy."

    April 11, 2012 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    Every town should have a stand your ground rule, to protect military ordinance users.
    Then supply all neighborhood watch volunteers with AK47's and Laws rockets, so tradgedies don't happen again.

    April 11, 2012 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
    • PunkPants

      do you like boys?

      April 11, 2012 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
    • PunkPants

      Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"
      do you like little animals?

      April 11, 2012 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. Johan

    Zimmerman is criminal, I care less about his skin color and race.

    April 11, 2012 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
  4. cnndoug

    "But a video does exist. The public relations director of 7-Eleven told me that, according to the company's manager of security, a store camera captured an African-American male (she wouldn't commit to "young") purchasing a bag of Skittles and a can of tea (she wouldn't say that it was "Arizona" tea). The hard disk with the video was removed after the story broke, and it has been subpoenaed by investigators for the state and/or county. The company has not made it available to the media. The public relations director could not specify the exact time of the purchase but said it was between 6:00 and 6:30.

    The 7-Eleven, according to maps.google, is 0.8 miles from the entrance to The Retreat at Twin Lakes, a 16-minute walk. There is not much to see or do on Rinehart Road on a Sunday night, and it was raining hard. Even if he was not bringing the tea and Skittles to his stepbrother but was eating and sipping en route, Martin should have arrived back at his dad's fiancée's place before 6:50, and much earlier if he left the store closer to 6:00 than 6:30. According to logs (now deleted from the department's website), Zimmerman called the Sanford police at 7:09:34"

    April 11, 2012 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  5. Name*shavon

    This case is a circus...unprecedented foolishness and in the meantime there are two greieving parents waiting for justice. Obly can a white man kill someone n slip under the radar. Hey may the bounty has been paid....

    April 11, 2012 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
  6. garyinco

    Yet another fact not mentioned in this article is that the attorneys bailed because Zimmerman had chosen to communicate directly with the special prosecutor. Doesn't sound like he's hiding to me. Greedy lawyers trying to drag this into a huge money-making machine, perhaps?

    I only hope this whole thing can see the light of truth. From the way the media is orgasming over over it, I wonder if that will ever happen. I feel sorry for everyone involved. Except for the the media and lawyers/politicians trying to profit from it...

    April 11, 2012 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
  7. Smeesq

    Mr. Toobin, check out the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct before condeming these attorneys. Assuming Zimmerman told his attorneys that he intended to flee the country if indicted, then the attorneys, with no other way of contacting their client, did what they had to do under the rules: they held a very public news conference that would surely be seen by their client, without disclosing the confidential statement of the client about his intended crime, and they resigned representation in order not to be a participant in Zimmerman's threatened future crime. Classic Year One ethics question.

    April 11, 2012 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      Spoken like someone who has never passed the bar. They didn't have to resign in front of the TV cameras. Communicating their decision by mail to his last known address would suffice - especially considering the damage a "press conference" (translation: showboating) like this would do.

      Hey, I don't know what happened that night, and have no position on whether this guy should do time. That's for a jury to decide after a careful and fair examination of the evidence. Stuff like this makes it less likely that will happen - all so they can get one last moment in the lights. He's well shed of them.

      April 11, 2012 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
  8. Ed

    These guys ought to be the subject of an ethical investigation. They don't have to continue to represent him, but they did represent him and should not be doing anything adverse to his interests. To go on national TV and make their client out to be anything less than a model citizen does that. It may, as the article suggests, influence the prosecutor. It may influence the jury pool. It may add to whatever stress he is dealing with. All for what? So the attorneys can get one last shot at the TV cameras before the case moves on from them. What an embarrassment to the profession.

    April 11, 2012 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
  9. Joey

    I'm amazed CNN is still posting a pic of 12 years old niigger boy just to get more of public sympathy. What a f/n yellow journalism!

    April 11, 2012 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      Joey, I have reported you for abuse under the terms of CNN's Rules of Conduct for their website. Take your filthy, uneducated , bigoted mouth to the bathroom and scrub it out with a bar of soap.

      April 11, 2012 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
  10. TJeff1776

    NOTHING has changed whatever. The prosecutor can issue a warrent at any time or place- in which case Zimmerman will quietly come in and be bonded out for trial. He has plenty of time to hire attorneys. Whats the point in having lawyers laying around waiting on an arrest which may never happen. Zimmerman has a good solid case despite all of the public squeels to the contrary. The trial is not going to happen for another eight months, if even then. The police are not screaming- they know exactly where Zimmerman is. AND you can bet someone on the Police Dept has apprised Zimmerman of every tiny tidbit of info on the entire case. One of the most telling is Martin's blood tests which will confirm his behavior.

    April 11, 2012 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    tragedies..is that spelled right? ewww

    April 11, 2012 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  12. noygdb

    F all the Martin blind supporters. All they want to do is assume guilt.

    Right now based on Zimmerman's report and witnesses I'm not seeing it.

    Guilt isn't assumed.

    April 11, 2012 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Michael Vick©™

      Zimmerman's report is NOT evidence. How many times do I have to remind you that Zimmerman's story means nothing. Also, tons of ear witness claimed that the cry for help probably came from Trayvon Martin. The only person who saw the fight wasn't sure who's on top, and that person was only interviewed by police 9 days later. This was the 13 year old boy and they also hired attorney and questioned the police. The voice forensic determined that the cry for help did not come from Zimmerman. So when you said "based on Zimmerman's report and witnesses", what witness are you referring to? Or are you making up stories just like a lot of racists out there?

      April 11, 2012 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
  13. Michael Vick©™

    to cnndoug: Zimmerman had criminal record and history of domestic violence. The HOA must be very desperate. Zimmerman also made at least 46 false alarm 911 calls. The man is clearly trigger happy paranoid lunatic. After Martin allegedly said "Do you have a problem" and Zimmerman answered "No", and then Martin replied "You have one now!", do you seriously believe Zimmerman got jumped and sucker punched by someone 110 pounds lighter? Not only did Trayvon Martin lost element of surprise, but he managed to overcome a 110 pound disadvantage and took down Zimmerman? Clearly Zimmerman is incompetent. He should have quit the neighborhood watch, let alone owning a gun. Also we know Martin died on grass which was quite a distance from concrete and SUV. I can see that it's possible Trayvon Martin was banging Zimmerman's head against wet grass. But that still doesn't explain his story about his head banging against concrete or that he lost the sight of Martin and went back to his SUV and got jumped.

    April 11, 2012 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
  14. trumpsahead

    One of biggest culprits of this case is the Obama regime. They are doing a wonderful job . . . of creating a major division between blacks and whites in America; and if anyone cannot see this is to Obama's advantage, just look closely. I'm almost 70 years old and I say there is more hate towards whites generally these days, genuine indiscriminate racism, then any time since I was a kid in the 50's. This is all planned by govt. Race hate in America from the beginning of our Independence has always started with govt calling the shots. Many whites saw the truth that govt instigated racism in America all along; the victims on the other hand, American Indians and Blacks especially, wrongly saw the "white man" as the villain in the piece and not Big Govt.
    Now the bad guy is white once again, but Zimmerman is partially white and looks more Hispanic than White, so this is a stretch. But if you want to hate Whites start with the white trash at the top.
    Obama says Trayvon "looks like the son he never had" or something to that effect – oh yeah, that should help ease the tension. I've read about the Patrick case and Collins case where the police had the perpetrator then let them go. This is a recurring theme; why? Because I think it is the intention of govt to "develop" or build tension in Black communities by intentionally not solving crimes when they know who the perpetrator was.
    Blacks and Whites together should realize who the main culprit is in these scenarios: Municipal or Community Govt who take orders from State and Federal Govt. Wake up, we are all duped, and being worked like a puppet in a magic act.
    I say, when there's unrest, when there are disputes in the citizenry, always look to see who is pulling the strings. Speaking of which, did the Martin family really need Jackson and Sharpton to turn it into a black/white thing when it was black/hispanic; no way does Zimmerman look "white".

    April 11, 2012 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
  15. nojustice

    Sounds like these lawyers are trying to frame Zimmerman into paying their enormous fees. He has the right to choose who he wants to defend him and does not have to report to them and maybe he was advised not to considering that they are already swarming on him like vultures. Whats really weird also is if we consider that maybe these attorneys are representing him and feel that it is in their clients best interest to be charged at this point in time. If I were to ask myself how that would be to their advantage it would have to be based on the fact that the current evidence is so strong in Zimmermans favor that they just want to get through this process as fast as possible so that he may continue his life and put this behind him.

    April 11, 2012 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
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