Judge Nelson Properly Denied the Defense Motion to Depose Benjamin Crump in Trayvon Martin Case

February 25, 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

Good afternoon.

I write today to clear up some confusion exhibited in comments over the weekend regarding the basis for Judge Nelson’s order denying the defendant’s motion to depose Benjamin Crump, the attorney who represents Trayvon Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton. As all of you know, he located Witness 8, who is referred to as DD to protect her identity and privacy. She was Trayvon’s girlfriend and was talking to him when the defendant accosted and attacked Trayvon moments before shooting him to death.

Crump recorded a telephonic interview with her from his office in which she reported that Trayvon told her that he was being followed by a “creepy man” in a vehicle as he was walking home. He ran to get away from the creepy man and thought he had succeeded, but the creepy man suddenly appeared on foot and close by.

She heard the following exchange:

Trayvon: “Why are you following me for?”

Old Man: “Why are you here?”

She heard what sounded like a physical struggle.

Trayvon: Get off!

Then she lost the connection.

DD is an important witness for the prosecution because her testimony contradicts the defendant’s claim that Trayvon hunted, confronted and attacked him as he was walking back to his parked vehicle.

The defense clearly has a proper basis to depose DD and no doubt will eventually do so, since the prosecution has listed her as a Class A witness (major witness) on their witness list. The defense has delayed taking her deposition claiming that it must obtain other unspecified information prior to the deposition. For example, the defense seeks to know her address prior to the deposition.

Judge Nelson denied that request for the second time at the hearing on Friday reiterating that they can ask her that question at her deposition.

To understand why the Court denied that request, one need look no farther than the outrageous and unlawful harassment and doxing inflicted by the defendant’s supporters on the defendant’s cousin, who accused him of molesting her over an 8-year period when they were children, and two innocent girls named Dee Dee in Miami, whom they erroneously believed to have been Trayvon’s girlfriend.

The defense also seeks to depose Benjamin Crump to inquire into how he discovered who she was, how he set up the interview and how he conducted it. He has already provided that information to defense counsel in a 15-page affidavit, but they seek further inquiry.

I do not believe there is any legitimate legal issue whether Benjamin Crump is an attorney who acted in his official capacity as counsel for Trayvon’s parents to locate DD and interview her to collect and preserve information to support a potential lawsuit against the defendant for causing the wrongful death of their son as well as to support a possible murder charge against the defendant. There simply is no question that his interest in representing Trayvon’s parents is in opposition to the defendant’s interest in being granted immunity from civil and criminal prosecution and that was just as certain before the defendant was charged as it is today. Therefore, what he did to secure DD’s interview and all of his notes and research regarding it are attorney-client work product and protected from disclosure.

Judge Nelson reportedly also found that he was acting as “opposing counsel,” a finding that provides additional legal justification to shield him from submitting to a deposition since that is prohibited, subject to a few limited and inapplicable exceptions. There is no serious question that he was acting in that capacity even though no criminal charge or civil suit had been filed.

Either way I do not see a significant legal issue to appeal.

If you want to read an excellent legal argument regarding this issue, check-out Bruce Blackwell’s memorandum.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing at the Treehouse where Sundance is calling for Don West to take over the defense. According to his open letter to Mr. West, he believes O’Mara is incompetent and DD does not exist. I do not link to that site, but Opera Carla posted a copy of the letter in the comments thread to my Many Blessings post.


Defense Raises Tempest in a Teapot in Trayvon Martin Murder Case

December 1, 2012

I write today about the defense motion for discovery filed yesterday in the Trayvon Martin murder case. Donald West wrote the motion and he is asking Judge Nelson to order the Martin family attorney, Benjamin Crump, to turn over the recording device with which he recorded his telephone conversation with Witness 8, whom we know as Dee Dee. That conversation occurred on April 2, 2012 and it is important to the case because she was telling him about her conversation with Trayvon on her cell phone when the defendant attacked Trayvon, mere moments before he shot him to death with a single gunshot to the heart.

Dee Dee was Trayvon’s girlfriend and she spent over 6 hours talking to and texting him the day the defendant shot him to death. She heard Trayvon describe the defendant as a “creepy man” who was following him for no apparent reason, a menacing man from whom he fled in fear. She heard him ask the defendant why he was following him and she heard the defendant respond by asking him what he was doing in the neighborhood. She heard what sounded like a scuffle with Trayvon yelling, “Get off me.” Then the connection went dead. We now know that the defendant fired the fatal shot mere moments later.

Mr. West relates in the motion that the State has provided the defense with a copy of the recorded telephone call between Mr. Crump and Dee Dee. However, Mr. West complains that the copy is very poor and mostly unintelligible. He wants a better copy and he wants it before he deposes Mr. Crump and Dee Dee.

He complains that the State says its copy is no better than the one he has and it claims it cannot force Mr. Crump to surrender the original recording device so that a new and possibly improved recording can be made.

This type of dispute is not unusual when third parties possess materials that the defense desires. The rules of discovery only require the State to turn over materials in its custody, possession or control. Here, the State is telling the defense that the material it requests is not within its custody, possession or control.

Presumably, Mr. Crump does not intend to part with the original recording or allow anyone to mess with it and potentially damage or destroy it.

The importance of the original recording to the defense is that it contains a statement by an important prosecution witness as well as potential evidence of coaching or tampering with the perception or memory of the witness by Mr. Crump, who was asking the questions. Now, mind you, there is no evidence or reason to believe that Mr. Crump attempted to pull a Serino and “correct” or change Dee Dee’s recollection. That is mere speculation in support of a defense request that prosecutors like to call a “fishing expedition.”

At this point, I do not believe that the defense has established that the copy it has differs from the copy that the State has or that the original copy that Mr. Crump has is any better. Seems like this could be determined in a reasonable and civilized fashion when the defense deposes Mr. Crump by playing the original and directing the court reporter to transcribe it. If the defense then wants to continue the deposition to another time to prepare questions for Mr. Crump about the recording, it may do so.

Basically, this is a tempest in a teapot and the defense needs to proceed with the depositions.


Zimmerman: O’Mara Adds Sanford Police Officials to Defense Witness List

October 25, 2012

Rene Stutzman reported late yesterday in the The Orlando Sentinel:

George Zimmerman’s lawyers Wednesday notified prosecutors that their witness list now includes a who’s who of the Sanford Police Department’s chain of command at the time of Trayvon Martin’s death, including the police chief, major crimes captain, sergeant and case detectives.

-Snip-

Wednesday’s defense witness list has on it a dozen names, including former chief Bill Lee; Bob O’Connor, the major crimes captain who oversaw the investigation; Lt. Randy Smith, the former sergeant who supervised the detectives investigating the case; and lead Investigator Chris Serino.

As I have written here and here, this hullabaloo is much ado about nothing, as far as the Zimmerman case is concerned.

The reason is that the opinions of the various individuals regarding the sufficiency of the evidence against Zimmerman are irrelevant and inadmissible at Zimmerman’s trial.

The scheduled depositions may have an impact, however, on the ongoing federal investigation into whether Zimmerman may have violated federal laws prohibiting hate crimes when he killed Trayvon Martin.

I said “may” because I suspect that the federal investigation may have widened to include investigating the identified individuals and others for conspiring to conceal Zimmerman’s commission of the murder by not charging Zimmerman with a crime.

I think they would be well advised to consult with counsel before their scheduled depositions to discuss whether they should assert the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer any questions pertaining to the investigation and their respective roles.

I believe there is much more to this story, so no one should be surprised if the depositions are suddenly cancelled without explanation.


Zimmerman: Judge Nelson Should Fine Mark O’Mara $1,500 for Publicizing his Motion for Prophylactic Sequestration

October 24, 2012

I believe Judge Nelson should fine Mark O’Mara $1,500 for posting his Motion for Prophylactic Sequestration of Witnesses in the Zimmerman case on his website.

I criticized this bizarre motion in Zimmerman: Defense Motion for Prophylactic Sequestration of Witnesses Reaches a New Low.

I said,

First, O’Mara is revealing the opinions of cops overseeing an investigation. Their opinions are irrelevant and inadmissible. The evidence is whatever it is and it alone constitutes probable cause to believe a crime was committed or it does not.

Second, revealing their opinions in a motion is an underhanded way of creating an excuse to publicize that they opposed charging Zimmerman with a crime.

Third, if they were genuinely concerned about a need to order witnesses to not collaborate with each other, they should have filed the motion under seal.

Fourth, it would have been in the best interest of the defense to have the witnesses collaborate with each other so that they all objected to filing criminal charges, but that sounds like what they were going to do anyway. Therefore, there was no need for the relief he sought in the order.

I concluded:

For all of these reasons, seems pretty obvious to me that the real purpose of the motion was to publicize what should have been kept private; namely, that the brass did not want to charge Zimmerman.

The more that I think about this motion the more irritated I become.

The scope of permissible discovery is very broad and not only includes the right to discover all information relevant to the lawsuit; it also includes the right to discover all information that might reasonably be expected to lead to the discovery of relevant information.

Because the scope of permissible discovery is so broad, there have to be some limitations on what the lawyers can do with the information they obtain through discovery. Keeping the information private is one such limitation.

Let us now take a look at depositions.

Lawyers depose (i.e., question) the opposing party’s witnesses under oath in the office of the lawyer who represents the opposing party. Other than the two lawyers and the witness, the only person present is a certified court reporter who administers the oath to the witness and records everything said by the lawyers and the witness during the deposition.

There is no judge to rule on objections. Instead, objections are noted for the record and the witness answers the question. Later on, if the trial court orders the deposition published and it is read in open court, the judge can consider the objection and rule on it. Depending on the ruling, the answer given by the witness during the deposition may or may not be read in open court.

In extraordinary circumstances during a deposition, the lawyers may suspend it to go to the courthouse to seek a ruling on an objection before resuming. The basic idea, however, is to allow the lawyers to conduct a deposition to create a thorough and private record of witness responses.

I emphasize the importance of privacy because the scope of a deposition may intrude into sensitive and private matters that might embarrass a witness, or protected matters such as trade secrets that might compromise a business, if publicized.

O’Mara’s very public revelation, in his motion for prophylactic sequestration of witnesses, of what the witness disclosed during the deposition about the opinions of the members of the group of Sanford Police Department officials regarding whether to charge Zimmerman with a crime is a major game misconduct because he revealed private information that most of the members of that group did not believe Zimmerman should be charged. Not coincidentally, that information could benefit Zimmerman by influencing prospective jurors to believe that Zimmerman should not have been charged with a crime, let alone second degree murder.

Why is that bad?

The answer is that a jury verdict must be based only on the evidence admitted in court. The opinions of the police officials are not evidence and have no evidentiary value. The rules of evidence do not permit that type of testimony to be presented at trial because it might influence jurors to base their verdict on opinions or speculation of the police officials rather than the evidence.

O’Mara knows this or should know it and this is why he never should have filed his motion for prophylactic sequestration of witnesses. BTW, this is an extraordinary and unusual request that I have never heard of and I do not believe there is any legal authority that supports it. Nevertheless, he was so eager to publicize the dissenting opinions of the police officials that he filed the motion without citing any legal authority authorizing Judge Nelson to grant the relief he requested, despite a rule that requires a lawyer to cite legal authority in support of any request to have the trial court do something.

Then he published his motion on his website for all the world to see.

This is why I am so offended by what he did.

I would be furious, if I were Judge Nelson and I would strike the motion, hold him in contempt, and fine him $1,500. I would do this in open court at Friday’s hearing for all the world to see. I also would warn him that if he does it again, I would put him in the slammer for a week.

Then I would ask him to give me a reason why I should not impose a gag order as requested by the prosecution.

I would, of course, give due consideration to the Florida Sunshine Law and the public’s right to know what is going on. I would probably end up denying the motion for the gag order without prejudice. That would allow the prosecution to refile it, if it should decide to do so.

BOTTOM LINE: O’Mara needs to stop trying his case in the Court of Public Opinion.


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