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I have ever seen," Toobin said about Tuesday's announcement by attorneys Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner that they have withdrawn as counsel for Zimmerman.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

soundoff (642 Responses)
  1. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    Welcome to Miami. Mi-ami-ami-ami.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • yuri pelham

      Is there anyone living in Florida who is normal? The hanging chad state which cursed the US with Bush.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • BroadCasting

      Van Der Sloot!

      April 10, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jim

    The lawyers may have to defend their actions in a licensing hearing. Commenting about withdrawal from representation is seldom appropriate.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      This guys are jokes. I would never have done this and I've represented folks that are a lot more frightening than Zimmerman. I believe it borders the unethical.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Fred Sanford (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    I'm headin for the big one Lamont

    April 10, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mike hunt

    sill showing the misleading photo of Treyvonn I see. keep up the good work CNN.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • sarahsmart

      TRAYVON is the one who is DEAD here ok. They can use any picture they damn well please

      April 10, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • ObjectiveGuy

      Seriously, I'm not voicing an opinion one way or another on this case, because at this point, I think it is for the court to decide. However, having the media (CNN, et. al.) continuously showing this photo of a 9 year old kid is misleading reporting. I have seen a number of pics of Trayvon Martin closer to his actual age, and he looks like a thug. Why are the more current photos rarely shown, instead of showing photos of a clearly much younger Trayvon. Also, many articles (thankfully, not this one) refer to Trayvon as African American, and Zimmerman as white, which subliminally implies a racially charged issue from the get go. However, Zimmerman is Hispanic, which is clearly not Caucasian, and since Hispanics are also minorities, it casts the story in a different light. But, why would CNN and the other majors let facts get in the way of a good race story.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  5. caliz

    Zimmerman is the kind of person who does what he wants and never listens to advice as evident in his calling special prosecutor and hannity contrary to his attorney's advice.

    And that supports the argument that he followed trayvon against the instruction of the 911 dispatcher. You will hear this argument in court. Mark my word!

    April 10, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joel

      Too bad all those people in the World Trade Center didn't also disregard the 911 dispatchers advice to stay there and wait.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • juniorbarnes

      Get your facts right.... and you're pathetic for passing judgment. YOU HAVE NO CLUE WHAT TYPE OF PERSON ZIMMERMAN OR MARTIN ARE. Listen to the 9-1-1 call. At no point is Zimmerman told not to follow. All that is said is "we dont need you to do that". 9-1-1 dispatchers are in no postion to give you any advise on what to do, one way or the other. Idiot..........

      April 10, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Chris Canto

    Maybe they know he is guilty and did this on purpose while masquerading to protect themselves.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      Who cares? Most of the criminal defendants I have represented have been guilty of something. I still stay on as their counsel and help them deal with the reality of their situation.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jim

    Can you say "Haul A$$"?

    April 10, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Chinatown

    This case is so fked already.......no way a fair trial is possible

    April 10, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • juniorbarnes

      you are so right

      April 10, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • ObjectiveGuy

      Yes, especially since both sides have already been jockeying for how to turn this situation into ca$h for themselves. If you ask me, they all suck!

      April 10, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jqent

    Verrrrrrry Intrerestink...

    April 10, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bobinoh

    I'm pretty sure these lawyers broke all kinds of attorney client rules and they could easily lose their licenses or be sued by Zimmerman. They don't seem like the brightest lawyers thats for sure.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. dubrats

    what would anyone one of you do if the black panthers had a bounty on your head?.....um yea i thought so.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • svann

      I wouldnt stop returning my lawyers phone calls thats for sure.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. chippy1

    Just goes to show what a freak show this country has become.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. EddyL

    It's ridiculous. People are arrested for having outstanding parking tickets. Here's a murderer and the stupid cops won't touch him.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      A murderer? You only become a murderer if you are convicted of it. Just because you kill someone does not make you a murderer.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • yuri pelham

      Agree with Adam. He's a killer not a murderer. And he's free.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • HopelessUSCountry

      Haha! Yes and you'll be arrested immediately if you throw flour on Kim Kardashian, but follow and shoot a teenager, no problem!

      April 10, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • T-Bone

      He's a hero!

      April 10, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jowl

    "Zimmy"? What an unprofessional newsperson. Its like i'm hearing Nancy Grace..

    April 10, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jason

    The message: he's is a guilty whack-job and we’re washing our hands of him.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
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