Posts Tagged ‘Media Trial’

Defense attorney Kirk Nurmi and prosecutor Juan Martinez often butted heads during the Jodi Arias trial.  For almost a year, the two faced off in court.  Now, they are once again sparring in their new books.  Martinez’s book, Conviction:  The Untold Story of Putting Jodi Arias Behind Bars is set to be released in January of next year.  Part 1 of Kirk Nurmi’s book, Trapped with Ms. Arias was released this week.

The books have of course have reignited the obsession that is Jodi Arias, but it also has ethical implications.  Kirk Nurmi no longer works for Arias and she is being represented by others for her appeal.  The Attorney General’s Office of Arizona is handling the appeal on the prosecution side, but Martinez may still work on it and he is still a prosecutor.

“Being on appeal, for the prosecutor, the case isn’t over,” says Denise Quinterri, a Phoenix attorney whose practice involves legal ethics, “But for the defense council, it’s an issue regardless, whether or not it’s on an appeal.”

Quinterri is concerned that Nurmi could write 3 books (his intention) without mentioning anything discussed with Arias covered by attorney-client privilege.

Martinez is not bound by confidentiality per se.  Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that they will not enforce the trial court’s order to seal information in the case.  This would have blocked Martinez’s book from being sold.  Jerry Cobb, spokesman for Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said that they put no restrictions on their prosecutors.

“We have every assurance that the material in the book is consistent with the ethical obligations he had as prosecutor,” Cobb said.

However, not everyone thinks it is ethical to write a book about a case while still serving as a prosecutor even if that case is over.

In an unrelated case in California, a prosecutor wrote a fictional book, however, while promoting the book, she was assigned to a case that matched the book.  The California Court of Appeal ruled unanimously that the prosecutor could not promote her novel at the same time as prosecuting a similar case.  The judges wrote that the prosecutor’s desire for money and fame might tempt her to work differently in the case.  The same ethical question brought up during the televised trial of Arias and other high-profile defendants.  The defense attorney for the defendant said that the case in the book was markedly similar not just to the current case, but was most likely based upon a previous case that twice ended in hung juries and was dismissed.

Deborah Rhode, an authority on legal ethics at Stanford, said that the judges’ ruling was correct.

The ruling went on to say, “no current public employee should be permitted to exploit his or her official position as a lever to earn extra income.”

Even though there are First Amendment questions to consider.  The ethical implications are still there none the less.  Other prosecutors have published books and gotten over ethical hurdles, like Jeff Ashton or Marcia Clark.  Local Phoenix attorney Dan Barr, a past member of the State Bar of Arizona’s Ethics Committee said that Martinez’s book is a “horrible idea”. (more…)

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A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled that Jodi Arias, 34, who is serving a life without parole sentence for the murder of Travis Alexander, must pay $32,000 in restitution to Alexander’s siblings for their travel expenses to attend the trial.  It is possible for Arias, if allowed or offered as each prison’s policies and programs are different, to obtain a job while in prison that will pay just a few cents to a few dollars a day.

However, there are questions about donations that supporters, trial watchers, and others gave to the family specifically to pay for these expenses, including lodging.  Others donated to promote the legacy of Travis Alexander and for discretionary spending.

The family had asked for about $96,000.  Most of the siblings lived in California, the trial took place in Arizona.

Jennifer Willmott, one of Arias’ defense attorneys during the trial, reviewed the receipts submitted by the family to come to the amount awarded.  Willmott requested that the family disclose the amount of donations received by supporters.  The family declined to publicly reveal the amount.

The family did not attend any restitution proceedings.  Sky Hughes, described as a family friend, told HLN in the summer of 2013 after Arias was convicted, but before she was sentenced that the Alexander siblings have been able to use donated money to pay for their expenses during the trial.

“Any money left over after travel and trial expenses are paid for, will go to pay for any counseling, medical needs and other needs that will help the Alexander family,” said Hughes, “All funds donated to the Travis Alexander Legacy Fund are the property of the Alexander family, and are to be used by the Alexander Family as they deem appropriate.”

Judge Sherry Stephens awarded Samantha Alexander $15,530.73, Tanisha Sorenson $10,754.99, Hilary Wilcox $4,232.11, Stephen Alexander $1,372, and Dennis Alexander $225.60.

Arias and Alexander were in an on-again-off-again toxic relationship, that some have said bordered on abusive, which culminated in Alexander’s death.  Alexander was found dead in the shower of his Mesa, AZ home in the summer of 2008.  Arias was convicted of 1st degree murder in 2013 in a very sensationalized circus of a trial that made celebrities out of Arias and the prosecutor Juan Martinez.  The original jury could not agree on an appropriate sentence, so a second jury was impaneled in October of 2014.  They also could not agree on an appropriate sentence.  Under Arizona law, prosecutors get two chances, if they so choose, to try to get a defendant who is charged with a capital crime the death penalty.  Judge Stephens opted to sentence Arias to natural life (life without the possibility of parole).

UPDATE:  10/24/2015

Defense attorneys for accused teen Philip Chism argue that his right to a fair trial has been “poisoned” by extensive sensational news coverage not only of the charges against him, but of the memorials and tributes to the victim, Colleen Ritzer.  This Tuesday, a hearing will be held on the change of venue motion.

Chism, now 16, faces a murder, rape, and robbery trial in October.  He is accused of attacking and killing his math teacher, 24-year-old Ritzer on October 22, 2013.  Attached to the motion are some 500 pages, as well as DVDs, of news reports on the case.  His lawyers Denise Regan, Susan Oker, and John Osler wrote in their motion, “The sustained coverage of the lengthy hearings on the defendant’s motion to suppress has insured that a large number of residents of Essex County know that [there was an unconstitutional questioning of] Philip Chism [which led to a confession]…There is little chance of a fair trial where the fact that the defendant has confessed is widely known.”

The lawyers argue since the confession was deemed unlawful by the court selecting jurors who have been exposed to the confession heavily makes the overall exposure to media reports even worse for the area.  The motion also accuses North of Boston Media Group papers, including the Salem News and the Eagle Tribune of having “disparaged” the defense in biased coverage and having inaccurate “inflammatory” stories.  The defense also points to the fact that the alleged victim was widely beloved in the community and that her tributes and memorials have been just as widely covered.

“Even if a resident received no information directly from the media, it is unlikely that he or she would not have heard of the death of Ms. Ritzer, given the number and size of events to honor and remember her through[out] Essex County.”

The defense names several examples including the moment of silence at the 2013 World series and the Step Up for Colleen race, in which 5,000 people took part.

“Given the strong emotional feeling such efforts invoke, Essex County residents likely possess a bias…”

The prosecution has not yet filed its response.

The defense lawyers also wrote in their motion that while other high-profile trials like that of Patriots player Aaron Hernandez were not moved, others have been especially where the crime was deemed “shocking or repellent”. The last time an Essex County judge moved a trial due to pretrial publicity was 14 years ago when serial child molester Christopher Reardon’s trial was moved to Hampshire County.  The trial never actually occurred because Reardon pled guilty and received a sentence of 40 to 50 years in prison.