A Public Defender and the Lure of the Web

It’s hardly uncommon for a defendant’s family to bring in fresh clothing for trial, in the hope of having him look his best before the judge and jury.  Of course, what makes him look his best in the minds of a defendant’s family sometimes differs from what a lawyer would select. Or what a juror might think. Or what anything resembling good taste might dictate.  But taste is a personal matter.

Defendant  Fermin Recalde was fortunate enough to have his family concerned about his appearance as he went on trial for the stabbing murder of his girlfriend.  As guards inspected the clothing to make sure they didn’t slip a file into a pocket, his public defender, Anya Cintron Stern, kept her watchful eye on them.  Until it came to her client’s underpants. 

From the Miami Herald :

Recalde’s public defender Anya Cintron Stern snapped a photo of Recalde’s briefs with her cellphone, witnesses said.

While on a break, the 31-year-old lawyer posted the photo on her personal Facebook page with a caption suggesting the client’s family believed the underwear was “proper attire for trial.”

Though Stern’s Facebook page was private, one of her “friends” told the judge of the image, who declared a mistrial.


And Cintron Stern was immediately fired, according to Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez, whose office represents clients who cannot afford a private attorney.

Clients are entitled to lawyers’ loyalty and respect, Martinez said.

“When a lawyer broadcasts disparaging and humiliating words and pictures, it undermines the basic client relationship and it gives the appearance that he is not receiving a fair trial.”

This came after an earlier posting by Stern, admitted to practice in 2008, “appeared to call into question the client’s innocence.”  On the bright side, Recalde had sought to get new counsel several times before, to no avail. 

Ah, the lure of the internet.  To amuse one’s friends. To puff ones importance. To relish in the fabulous stories a criminal defense lawyer accumulates.  It’s almost irresistible to have such great things to tell and not be able to share. After all, this is the age of sharing, where funny photos taken by the omnipresent cellphone camera can cause people lulz and make someone the wittiest or most impressive person in her crowd.  Who wouldn’t want that?

But what we do is the antithesis of sharing.  What we see, we know, we learn, isn’t ours to share, no matter how much fun it would be to do so.  Martinez gets his priorities straight, that our clients are entitled to our loyalty and respect.

For the most part, lawyers in the blawgosphere have shown remarkable restraint in maintaining their clients’ confidences.  No doubt there are funny moments some would love to twit about, but they don’t.  Our clients don’t exist for the amusement of others, a source of fodder for whatever social media platform we favor.  Their lives aren’t sources for the next picture or blog post.  Their misery isn’t our self-promotion.

Yet, some try to push the envelope as far as they can. Whether it’s to amuse or impress, they tell stories and share details that sacrifice the privacy of others and confidence they swear to protect.  They claim to hide enough to prevent anyone from knowing that they’re playing with privilege, and pretend their being honorable.  It’s a lie they tell themselves, and a trick to see if others are smart enough to spot the lie. Few are.

However, as the societal norm changes, and young people reveal embarrassing and, shockingly often, stupid information about themselves, they demonstrate the inability to distinguish what is fair game for public dissemination and what they have no right to show.  Their judgment is skewed by their inability to keep their own business private, so why should they comprehend the duty to protect the privacy of others? 

No doubt Stern thought the defendant’s briefs a fabulous source of humor. Leopard print underpants?  Hysterical! How funny is that? ROFLMAO. It must be shared with all her friends.  LOL.

And why should Stern be concerned about putting it on her Facebook page?  It was private, which to digital natives is about as controlled a public disclosure as could possibly be.  Of course, private to Facebook-ers isn’t quite the same as private to the rest of us.  When your 500 closest buddies can see it, it’s really not private.

There is a basic rule of thumb that could be used, even by those who adore the internet and want desperately to “like” and be liked.  Reveal nothing.  No names. No dates, No places. No statements, No feelings. No thoughts.  And under no circumstances, photos of leopard print briefs.

I know this is killing some of you. Your friends who work at Wal-Mart have a never-ending stream of hysterically funny photos to post, and you feel like a loser for offering nothing more than an occasional cute puppy.  How awful to be a lawyer and be unable to share where the body is buried.

But what we do involves other people’s lives. What we share about them is at their expense.  Whether it will amuse others or impress them, it’s not ours to offer.  And if you can’t manage to care enough about your clients to protect their confidences, do it for yourself, as you may finally get your name in the papers but not in a good way. 

And even if it doesn’t bring you overnight notoriety and turn you into the Kim Kardashian of your crowd, there is a good chance that one of your “friends” won’t be as foolish as you and will recognize the impropriety of your conduct.  Just because you’re willing to sacrifice your client’s privacy for some laughs doesn’t mean everyone you know is similarly cavalier with the lives of others. 

Once you’ve demonstrated a lack of regard for the privilege, you will carry that scarlet letter with you thereafter.  The internet may be the most fun you’ve ever had, but the internet never forgets.  That includes the wrongs you’ve done as well as the funny photos you’ve posted.

H/T FritzMuffKnuckle

5 comments on “A Public Defender and the Lure of the Web

  1. Mirriam

    I think we have a brand new generation that has no concept whatsoever of “public” vs. “private”. They actually think in terms of facebook posts and twitter streams. I know very smart young lawyers who are not ever away from their cell phones tweeting and posting their every move. I don’t know that it’s a matter of lawyers not knowing it’s ALL OF THEM. Yes, we have different rules, but there was no medium for us to blab everything to everyone at once back in the old days. So, how do you change an attitude of keep private things private when nothing is private anymore. Ever.

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