Don’t Cry For Sharen Ghatan

If you can’t manage to pull off an interview with Gayle King, who did not attend the Mike Wallace Masters Class on how rip a target to shreds, you should seriously reconsider whether law is your calling. But that comes at the end of a series of very unfortunate choices, reflected by Miya Ponsetto’s decision to have her moment under the lights.

The backstory is fairly clear. Ponsetto falsely accused a black 14-year-old of stealing her iPhone, screamed at him and tackled him as he tried to get away from this crazed 22-year-old. Whether her belief, what rational people would call a baseless assumption, that he stole her phone was based on his race, his age or something else is unclear. What is absolutely clear is that her interview, even under the withering questioning of Gayle King, was a fiasco.

From wearing that bizarre hat, to refusing to grasp that her actions were not merely wrong, but out of control, to that astounding moment when she told King “enough,” it was one of the worst things a person with potential culpability could have done. And next to her sat her lawyer, Sharen Ghatan.

Before the interview aired, Miya Ponsetto was arrested.

In her post-video chat, Gayle King expressed her feelings toward Ghatan.

You know, I actually felt for the attorney there who was really trying to help her…

Don’t cry for Sharen Ghatan.

Instead, Ms. Ponsetto, 22, went off script.

People do that, which is one of the primary reasons why putting someone who was involved in a potentially criminal incident is at best a highly dubious proposition, and at worst reckless. As attorneys, we know this happens, just as we know the incredibly bad things people say when questioned by cops. But this wasn’t your ordinary extremely poor choice.

Her personal attorney, Sharen H. Ghatan, said on Friday that she had become concerned for Ms. Ponsetto, who had behaved erratically in the hours before her arrest.

“My concern now is with her mental health and her well being,” Ms. Ghatan said. “She is behaving in a fashion that is completely of her own volition.” Of the interview, which was met with widespread derision online, Ms. Ghatan said, “I was embarrassed for her.”

She was behaving erratically, and yet you allowed her to go in front of the camera? You had doubts about her mental health but let her answer questions? Granted, Gayle King may have no functional grasp of what an attorney is there to do, but we’re not potted plants, sitting slightly to the side as our clients self-immolate. No matter how many failings and bad choices by a lawyer led up to that moment, we do not let that moment happen. Speak up. Jump in front of the camera, Do something. Do not let your client crash and burn on national television.

But then, it never should have gotten to that point.

Ms. Ghatan said she had repeatedly tried to interrupt her to no avail. “She went off script,” she said. “She decided to disregard my advice and just go on her own.”

“I don’t think she should have handled it the way she did,” Ms. Ghatan added. “She was prepared and guided. She apologized, but not in the way she should have. But she said so many other things that it almost blurred her message. It was so disrespectful.”

Much as she says the words, that “she was prepared and guided,” no experienced criminal defense lawyer buys it. We don’t just give our advice. If a client wants to talk to the media, itself a proposition that no competent lawyer wouldn’t strongly advise against (and by strongly, I mean “are you out of your friggin’ mind? Do you have any idea what damage you could do?”), we would then prep the client within an inch of their life, over and over, emphasizing how one word out of play could put them in prison, explode in their face, in the hope of sufficiently scaring them off of their hare-brained choice.

But if the client resisted our entreaties, pushed back on our “advice,” acted “erratically” or insisted on wearing a hat that said “daddy” and a leather jacket, rather than sober business attire, for reasons that no sane person can fathom, we pull the plug.

On top of everything else, Miya Ponsetto was a 22-year-old. She thought like a child, behaved like a child and answered like a child. By child, I mean with the arrogance seen by so many young women who are empowered by the overarching value of their self-assessed feelings. She considered herself “super sweet”? Is that how it works? Well yes, to a 22-year-old woman, it probably does, between believing the woman who believes that whatever she believes is her truth, to which she is absolutely entitled according to her friends on Facebook and all the passionate people who believe “Yassss Kween” is a thoughtful argument.

Ghatan could not make Ponsetto do what was wise. Of course, client management is a skill that lawyers develop over the years, born of their experience dealing with a wide array of people of varying intelligence and sanity. Ponsetto may well have mental health issues, although it’s unclear to me that her reactions in the interview wouldn’t be the same for a great number of self-important, self-righteous, women of her age group.

That was Ghatan’s job to deal with, to address and fix. If the lawyer can’t stop the client from a terrible choice, then the lawyer must use whatever she can to prevent the client from being the client. The notion that she tried, oh well, is nonsense. We don’t get to fail our client and shrug that it wasn’t out fault. That’s exactly what our job entails, preventing clients from doing the worst possible thing.

And if, in the final calculation, there was absolutely nothing Ghatan could do to go into that interview with the clear certainty that her client, that 22-year-old with the stupid hat, wasn’t going to explode on air, then her duty was to withdraw as counsel, as she was not up to the task. If  Ghatan wasn’t a good enough lawyer to protect her client from herself, then let another lawyer do the job she could not.

33 thoughts on “Don’t Cry For Sharen Ghatan

  1. DaveL

    Why would you, in the aftermath of such a spectacle, after raising doubts about your client’s mental health, insist on making the point she was acting “completely of her own volition?” Should we also volunteer she acted “wilfully and knowingly?”

      1. Solomon Wisenberg

        Wrong, you hopelessly out of touch troglodyte. She was in “comedic genius” mode. She uses that to “get her clients what they want.” You know, Napalm. Smells like Victory.

    1. Kathleen Casey

      They are convinced they can talk themselves out of trouble but it never happens does it? Law enforcement officers count on it.

  2. CLS

    One of the most important lessons I learned starting out as a baby lawyer universally came from judges and colleagues. It took the same form almost every time someone blessed me with a moment of their time, so the abbreviated version was this :

    “At some critical point in the case your client will ask someone important “Can I say something?” The person won’t want to seem rude, so they will allow the client to speak. Ninety-nine percent of the time what the client says will egregiously fuck their case up. Therefore, shut the client up and do the talking yourself.”

    It’s really sad Ms. Ghatan never learned that lesson. Ignoring it most likely fucked Miya Ponsetto’s case for good.

  3. B. McLeod

    This was horrible, and “fiasco” is the same term I have used in posts characterizing this interview, which never should have been allowed to happen.

    My sense from the interview is that this was a relatively new attorney/client relationship. It was obvious from the interview that Ghatan had not adequately explained to her client the gravity or extent of the trouble she is in, having 1) committed a battery on video, an 2) made public statements also effectively admitting the offense. The defense, to the extent of its possible existence, will have to be focused on striving for leniency in punishment. This interview was (and was always going to be)100% counterproductive.

    Worse, the additional debacle of the arrest only a few hours later shows that Ghatan failed to prepare her client for the probable arrest. If the client indeed has chronic anxiety issues (as opposed to raising this claim in a bid for sympathy) this would have been a case for counsel to try to work out a voluntary surrender and booking intake. At a bare minimum, she needed to impress upon Ms. Ponsetto the importance of submitting to the arrest if the officers came with a warrant.

    This was just a disaster all the way around, and although it is being ignored in most of the reporting, the lawyers who are following the coverage have to be shaking their heads.

    1. SHG Post author

      Experienced lawyers are shaking their heads. Are inexperienced lawyers, or do they believe her when she said she did her best, so what more could she do?

  4. Mario Machado

    “She apologized, but not in the way she should have.” So, she wanted her client to admit guilt while charges are pending, but the way she did was not to her liking.

    Then she throws her under the bus. I know the world is awash with idiotic narcissists, but this one has an extra kick to it.

      1. Jorge Novoa

        While I’m not a therapist, I agree that this 22-year-old is in need of mental help. That said, as someone who also has no formal legal education, I was shocked by the lawyer badmouthing her client. Wouldn’t the prep that goes into an interview be considered an extension of attorney-client privilege? Given how wealthy the family appears to be, you’d think they would get someone who knows how to handle spoiled kids who have to go into the media. Unless….

        …maybe I’ve been watching too many reruns of The Practice, but what if she’s talking and allowing all this to happen as seeds. What if she’s setting up an insanity defense for trial? Then I take it all back, and this attorney is a generous!

        PS: As a Puerto Rican myself, I really wish she’d stop announcing her nationality. Not only is it making us look bad, it’s the stupidest defense. Latinos can be racist against blacks and vice versa. It’s as bad as Kevin Spacey coming out as gay when he was accused of sexually abusing a minor.

  5. KeyserSoze

    “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

  6. Richard Parker

    In a better society, we would treat this as a teachable moment rather rather than flying two (!) detectives 3000 miles to arrest her.

  7. Jake

    Partially because it came across my desk while still waking up this morning and partially because, well, Miya isn’t exactly hard to look at, I took an interest in this story.

    After watching and reading every single second of media associated, what I can conclude, based on my ridiculously limited experience with medicine and the law, is: this chick is crackers. She needs help right now -before she hurts someone or herself.

    1. Richard Parker

      Imagine being one of her high school teachers. Then imagine her being the female norm in your high school classroom.

      1. rose

        Don’t try to argue that Miya represents all 22-year-old women. Now THAT is sexism. Most 22-year-old women — just like 22-year-old men — are recent college graduates entering the workforce. They’re adults, unlike Miya. I encourage you to actually speak to women in this age range rather than going for the age-old “young women are self-centered dingbats” take.

        1. SHG Post author

          I said all 22-year-olds. You say all 22-year-old women. I encourage you to learn how to read before making whining about your victimhood.

        2. Miles

          Kinda gave yourself away there, Rose. Yes, most 22yo women are very much like 22yo men, narcissistic entitled children who want all the fun of cosplaying grownups while behaving like whiny arrogant infants because adulting is hard.

          1. SHG Post author

            It seems as if she was looking for something to be offended about, and fails to see the irony of her self own.

  8. Joseph Loudon

    One out of 50 of my clients makes a statement to a court, whereas it’s probably only 1 in 200 that I would be happy to have make a statement to a court. When an insane client picks an insane lawyer, it’s a recipe for disaster.

    1. SHG Post author

      Ghatan isn’t insane. She just wasn’t up to the task of being this troubled woman’s lawyer, and we don’t have the latitude without clients’ lives to fail this way.

  9. davep

    The odd hat seems to be related to the “call her daddy” podcast. Though, (according the wikipedia), the person behind the blog said it wasn’t official “merch”. Apparently, “daddy” means “boss”.

    1. SHG Post author

      She could be Pastafarian for all it matters. You don’t do that if you don’t want to look like a nutjob.

      1. davep

        Of course. I thought that was obvious.

        I wasn’t trying to excuse it. And, the info doesn’t explain it either.

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