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 22-year-old woman caught on camera allegedly physically attacking a 14-year-old Black teen and falsely accusing him of stealing her phone was arrested in California.
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) January 8, 2021
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…
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.