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I have ever seen," Toobin said about Tuesday's announcement by attorneys Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner that they have withdrawn as counsel for Zimmerman.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. sam9962

    Really??? The attorneys said they don't know where he is... they said he's definitely not in Florida.... Yeah Right! NOT buying it...He's in Florida!

    April 10, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Luke

    Zimmerman's guilty as homemade sin and is definitely a MURDERER!

    April 10, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • BeverlyNC

      Zimmerman is a murderer on the run, no attorneys, not in FL, setting up a website to get money from suckers, calling the slimeball Hannity to try his case in the media, and still free. He needs to be found, arrested, and put on trial.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Greek American

    Yes the stories do not add up, but all this crap wouldn't be going on if they had just arrested Zman. Come to think of it, this whole thing is now f*#ked anyway because good luck getting an impartial jury or trial or whatever now. Casey Anthony sequel.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. KellyinCA

    I suspect that, since they have never been recognized by a judge as Zimmerman's counsel of record, they have some legal leeway to do this. That said, perhaps this is their way of saying that he's gone missing and may be at risk. It may be time to put some pressure on his family to get his whereabouts and secure an arrest, if only to complete the investigation. The more George Zimmerman hides, the worse it looks for him.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bman

      Naah Bring in the swat teams. Make it messy. We need a good example again, the racists have forgotten their history lessons.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. DevilSlayer

    Z is running and the lawyers know it that's why they made this announcement. It is unethical for them to do this.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. PhilG

    Both attorneys should be placed before a bar hearing for gross neglience.

    They have just misrepresented their client in a most unacceptable way and have proved themselves unworthy to be defense attorneys.

    You can't just drop a client and run away when it looks like the client might get arrested.

    That's just total nonsense..

    April 10, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • PhaReal

      Ahhh its not their client anymore remember

      April 10, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. florida is joke.

    This case is absolutely crazy. U have a murderer that u have no idea where he is neither do u have a bond to monitor his whereabouts. The case isn't resolved yet but u have no idea where he is. The Florida judicial system has let their citizens down.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Les

    He is a lunatic. That fact is clearly evident from the fact that he killed an unarmed child in cold blood and then tried to claim self defense against a box of Skittles. Definitely lunatic material in my book.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Stephanie Healy

    So much for attorney/client confidentiality.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Michael Vick©™

    Another important point from Lou Polumbo: how concealed was Zimmerman's gun? The racists kept talking about self defense. If Trayvon Martin was really that life-threatening with a bag of skittles and ice tea, how life-threatening was George Zimmerman to Trayvon Martin if Zimmerman did not conceal his gun properly? Zimmerman was not a uniformed security guard or law enforcement officer. To all of us, a stalker with a gun is pretty threatening. If I was close enough, I'd do everything to fight off this guy. Maybe that's what happened. If that was the case, then this is clearly not a case of self defense.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. theobvious

    Why don't you just suck Zimmerman's dick already!

    April 10, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Cdog

    The lawyers are withdrawing because they cannot represent a client who calls a prosecutor himself, calls the media (hannity) himself, and won't respond to their communications. From a criminal defense attorney's perspective, by calling the prosecutor directly, George ZImmerman defeated any purpose of having a defense attorney. A client that doesn't listen to instructions makes his attorneys look bad and sets them up for problems down the line if they continue to represent him. It could become a he said she said when he sues them for malpractice: "no, you never told me not to call the prosecutor." In my opinion, that is probably why they withdrew, and why Toobin says it makes Zimmerman look bad.

    April 10, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • elizabeth

      Nobody is saying they can't withdraw from the case. Its how they did it. They were only concerned about their 15 mins of fame. The analysts are right in saying that was the strangest press conference ever. Personally I would have dropped him like a hot potatoe but I wouldn't call a press conference to do it. I certainly wouldn't make him sound like a nutcase. It hurts more than it helps to paint him as erratic or lacking in sound judgment. Its not a long leap to say that he was erratic on the night of the shooting. The biggest problem with his self defence argument is that the kid was unarmed. .Self defence is about proportionality and shooting someone who comes at you unarmed is not proportionate at all. All they had to say is that they withdrew. All the detail was not for public consumption.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael Vick©™

      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 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. angel611

    Hey amigos, is ok, he gone south of the border back to his homeland.

    April 10, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Susan

    I suspect that Zimmer-ran isn’t returning his attorney’s calls, texts, etc. because he was either tipped off that an arrest is imminent or he is assuming he will be arrested soon. So, I believe he called the Special Prosecutor directly thinking he could glean some info. That would line up with his asking for donations via a website under his direct control because he will need some fast cash to go on the run. If he does run, it’s just evidence of consciencousness of guilt.

    April 10, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sane

    I heard the press conference.. Zimmerman got a good set of lawyers.. I thought the lawyers were to the point. I liked the way they attacked the out of town Mob trying to create racial tensions. Race is serious issue. Anyone trying to abuse should be punished. People like "not-so-reverend" and "Sharpton" are destroying the issue call racial profiling by using it on situations where it obviously isnt. There are racial issues in this country but you need to use it when it is real and not play wolf..
    Note: I am not white/black/hispanic and so my views are outsider.

    April 10, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
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