Zimmerman's Lawyer Explains Limits of Social Media Presence

One of the reasons I warn commenters here not to attack the character of Trayvon Martin is that I don't think it will come up at trial, and I'm following and attempting to analyze the legal proceedings. Mark O'Mara has made it clear he would not be raising Trayvon's character at trial. If it's not an issue in the legal case, I see no reason to speculate about it.

Today O'Mara makes it clearer. He lists what people won't find on the new website and social media pages he established for the case:

We Will Not Comment On The Character of Trayvon Martin, His Family, or His Supporters


Whatever the outcome of this case, and however it is framed by either party, what cannot be denied that a young man lost his life, his family is in mourning, and people around the country are showing their support — and they have our respect and sympathy. While certain details regarding Martin may become part of trial, they will never be a part of our online discussion, and we will aggressively moderate comments on our page on Facebook, and discourage others from making disparaging comments.

O'Mara says his team will be moderating comments left on their sites and take a "conservative" view when moderating.

We intend to remain very conservative in limiting such conversations so as to avoid any possible negative impact on the criminal justice system.

Nor will they be using the social media to disseminate information about evidence in the case. Here's what they said initially about how they will use social media.

Speculation and theories about what happened the night Trayvon Martin was killed, is within bounds here, on the factual and open threads, provided they are based on publicly available documents, calls and the like. Character attacks and rank speculation against any party in the case, are not.

I'm glad to see the media has become less sensational and distorted in recent days, and the attacks by the Martins' lawyers on Zimmerman are either being tempered or not getting the same attention they were before. While O'Mara is not going to address these issues, they are still on my radar screen, if they restart.

Until the next document release....

Update: Commenters here do not seem to be aware that the Martin family has had a website for Trayvon for some time. It raises funds. Its stated purpose is "To pursue justice on behalf of Trayvon Benjamin Martin, the son of Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin and the brother of Jahvaris Martin." On the about page, they discuss George Zimmerman. They are also on FB and Twitter. On FB, there are 221,000 friends.

The Martin family attorneys posts news about the case on their firm website.

While the Martins and their attorneys are not "parties" to the criminal case -- the only parties are the State of Florida and George Zimmerman -- they do have an interest in the litigation which is recognized by Florida's state constitution and statutes.

Victims of crime or their lawful representatives, including the next of kin of homicide victims, are entitled to the right to be informed, to be present, and to be heard when relevant, at all crucial stages of criminal proceedings, to the extent that these rights do not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.

This thread is now closed.

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    I can't access the site from work; (5.00 / 3) (#6)
    by Anne on Tue May 01, 2012 at 08:44:59 AM EST
    it's deemed a "security risk," interestingly enough; I meant to take a look last night and just never got to it.

    In any event, given the popularity of social media, I can't imagine O'Mara will not have to dedicate one or more employees to monitoring and moderating the website and Facebook, and unless all comments and postings automatically go into moderation before being released, it's something that can get out of control very quickly.  The problem with moderating comments that way is that people who make comments don't like to have to wait to see them - if the wait is too long, many may just move on.

    And they have so many places to do that, and O'Mara isn't going to be able to control any of it.

    It may not actually be his intention to attract and encourage reader interaction as much as he intends to establish himself as the preeminent authority on all things Zimmerman; I guess we'll see how successful he is.

    He will have to be careful; I have to think it's going to be monitored six ways from Sunday by the state and by the Martin family, and is not going to be without some potential land mines.

    Maybe (none / 0) (#50)
    by CoralGables on Tue May 01, 2012 at 04:43:39 PM EST
    he's working up a list of potential buyers for his future book.

    It is ridiculous (5.00 / 3) (#7)
    by AngryBlackGuy on Tue May 01, 2012 at 09:57:06 AM EST
    that O'Mara's firm is running a Zimmerman site that allows comments, regardless of how closely the delete inappropriate comments.

    I don't think the reaction to that site is consistent with the other discussions we have had about the Martin family lawyers.

    There is absolutely no reason to have a public website other than to contaminate the jury pool.  There are always people outside of a case who will make wild speculation.

    It is not the job of lawyers on either side of the case to try to correct all of that speculation.

    At least that's what I thought the standard being proposed should be.

    wild speculation (none / 0) (#8)
    by michele on Tue May 01, 2012 at 10:30:54 AM EST
    Like the stuff written on TM facebook and other social media

    I think O'Mara is good for setting the integrity standard regarding social media predictable involvement in high profile legal cases.

    Interviews with O'Mara reveal a practical man with a down to earth sensibility.


    But (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by AngryBlackGuy on Tue May 01, 2012 at 10:47:54 AM EST
    is the point that we approve of such websites and other communications when we trust the lawyer (which seems like a pretty objective standard)?

    I thought Jeralyn's point has been that we frown on any attempts to play to potential jurors and the media by people involved in the case.  In addition, all we need to have an issue is a website sponsored by the defendants that posts (even for a short period) non-factual information regarding the case from commenters to have an issue that goes right to the heart of what Jeralyn has criticized the Martin lawyers for.

    I think that if the Martin family's lawyers established a mirror website to debunk false statements and such, the reaction would be swift indeed.

    And given that we just learned that Zimmerman had $200K sitting in an account, it seems to me that their team already has some issue with keeping their facts straight as well.


    $ the Martin family has raised (none / 0) (#19)
    by michele on Tue May 01, 2012 at 11:23:00 AM EST
    any idea?

    surely the travel the family has been engaged in alone is very costly.


    I think the $200k (none / 0) (#20)
    by sj on Tue May 01, 2012 at 11:42:04 AM EST
    could (oddly enough) be an honest mistake.  It has been brought to the court's attention now so I think that's okay.

    But the rest of your comment I agree with.  (Although I think you mean "similar" website, not "mirror website" which has a specific meaning)


    Yeah, (none / 0) (#23)
    by Doug1111 on Tue May 01, 2012 at 12:04:32 PM EST
    I agree. Probably the great bulk of the money came in after Zimmerman was arrested and it was clear he would have mondo expenses.  Between then and for a few days after the bail bond hearing, he was in jail.  Unless he had access to a computer there, which seems unlikely, how would he know there were substantial funds there until after he was released from jail.  

    The only thing that gives me pause on that is that O'Mara didn't make that argument when back before the judge I don't think.  Maybe that's because he was embarrassed that Zimmerman didn't tell him about it a day or two after he was released.


    My hypothesis is much more simple than all that (none / 0) (#29)
    by sj on Tue May 01, 2012 at 12:15:07 PM EST
    They're amateurs just trying to handle an extraordinary situation.  You have a lot of "if this/then that" in your speculation.  I had some of those same thoughts, but there could be other factors as well.  I don't try to dissect someone else's timeline that way.

    Who knows?  Part of that may be right.  I have no idea.


    Occam's Razor (none / 0) (#39)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Tue May 01, 2012 at 01:47:41 PM EST
    Occam's Razor award winner.

    They're amateurs just trying to handle an extraordinary situation.

    the Martin family (none / 0) (#25)
    by Jeralyn on Tue May 01, 2012 at 12:11:42 PM EST
    has had a website for a long time. It raises funds and I won't link to it. Google is your friend.

    Distinction ? (none / 0) (#1)
    by michele on Tue May 01, 2012 at 03:01:35 AM EST

    Would you care to comment on the distinction between character attacks and as O'Mara states  details about Martin?

    "While certain details regarding Martin may become part of trial, they will never be a part of our online discussion"

    details of Martin's actions (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Tue May 01, 2012 at 03:35:06 AM EST
    the night he was shot are obviously going to be relevant to the case. Whatever he did before, will not. If he's claiming self-defense, he obviously has to go after Martin for his actions that night. But its not going to go further than that that. Nothing about high school suspensions, twitter, all that kind of stuff. I'm glad to see him take the high road. He doesn't need to go there to win the case.

    frankly, i'm at something of a loss (none / 0) (#2)
    by cpinva on Tue May 01, 2012 at 03:28:14 AM EST
    as to why mr. o'mara thinks this web site is a good thing at all.

    because the number of media calls (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Tue May 01, 2012 at 03:42:04 AM EST
    you get in a high profile case is astronomical. You can either hire a PR person to field them, or finda simpler way to do it in house. If you answered them by phone, you'd never get any work done.

    This way he gets to dispel mis-truths, and set the record straight about his client.  He's right, in a few years, most of us with high profile cases will go this way. He's kind of like the test bunny.

    Letting us know if he's filed a pleading is not commenting on the evidence. Same for letting people know court dates and the purposes of the hearing.

    And at some point, he's going to start fundraising.


    I can understand that in the case of having (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by ruffian on Tue May 01, 2012 at 06:58:02 AM EST
    a blog or a web site, but what about Facebook? The only point of that is to have interaction and get comments. Since he says he is going to be monitoring and deleting comments, isn't that a time intensive task?  Seems like he will be able to build whatever public opinion case he is trying to make in that way.

    There isn't anything wrong with that, in fact it is very smart.  He can have others say things, when he might himself end up with a gag order.  Would a gag order on the attorneys mean he would have to take down his facebook page?


    Or... (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by ScottW714 on Tue May 01, 2012 at 11:05:47 AM EST
    ... he could just ignore the media.

    Seems like just posting press releases would be far more efficient than trying to regulate a discussion.

    And being the 'test bunny' is great so long as you aren't the one going to the slammer if it fails.


    i see your point. (5.00 / 1) (#32)
    by cpinva on Tue May 01, 2012 at 12:27:19 PM EST
    however, usually the "test bunny" dies. that's sort of why none of us wants to be one.

    one thing no one else seems to have noted, with respect to monies raised by the parties:

    it's all taxable income to them (per IRC 61), and none of it is deductible by the donors. i assume mr. o'mara is cognizent of that fact, and has so informed his client.


    Maybe they are setting it up (none / 0) (#56)
    by Darby on Tue May 01, 2012 at 05:21:46 PM EST
    in a way that it isn't taxable and/or deductible by the donor.

    How can the funds received not be taxable? (none / 0) (#57)
    by Angel on Tue May 01, 2012 at 05:28:10 PM EST
    And how could a donor take a deduction?

    Neither of those options make sense to me.


    I am not sure (none / 0) (#59)
    by Darby on Tue May 01, 2012 at 05:46:22 PM EST
    If a non profit is set up to donate to a legal fund that goes to  o'mara. If it bypasses gz  completely I am not a tax lawyer so I am not certain if or how this could happen.

    The use of new media forms (none / 0) (#9)
    by KeysDan on Tue May 01, 2012 at 10:45:32 AM EST
    by the defense attorney, on behalf of the defendant, is unusual, but smart.   It seems to be taking advantage of technology to update the old-fashioned press release, along with opportunity for interactions.  The social media presence permits a modicum of control for the defense--without complete reliance on journalistic reports and interpretations.

    It does bring a responsibility to Mr. O'Mara to focus on the legal proceedings and to moderate comments effectively.  Certainly, an educational thrust, albeit with the defense's  point of view, would be valuable. So much of this case, it seems to me, has been colored by either mis-information or dislike of the investigation and controlling laws, rather than  application of these laws to this specific case.  It may be that the prosecution will need to bring its perspectives into a clearer public focus as well---unless and until the Court decides that a gag order is in the best interest of justice.

    If the Marting family (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by AngryBlackGuy on Tue May 01, 2012 at 10:48:26 AM EST
    set up it's own mirror website, would you have an issue?

    I am not sure what a "mirror" (none / 0) (#12)
    by KeysDan on Tue May 01, 2012 at 10:55:08 AM EST
    website would mean or entail.  But, if it was essentially that which I understand and envision is the intent of the defense, albeit with a prosecution/family point of view, I would have no issue.

    That is what I mean (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by AngryBlackGuy on Tue May 01, 2012 at 10:59:51 AM EST
    and you are consistent.

    I think that if you are against the Martin's using the media to correct information about Trayvon and address other issues, you should be against the idea of a defense website that allows comments.

    But we'll see how it all works out.


    Both Parties... (5.00 / 3) (#16)
    by ScottW714 on Tue May 01, 2012 at 11:12:39 AM EST
    ...should just post press releases and leave it at that.  This is non-sense, at anyone here knows, one ID can contaminate the conversation very quickly and unless the monitors are going to monitor every post before it's posted, this will be an epic failure.

    And ABG, I wouldn't worry too much, this could easily spin out against GZ.  And since the majority of folks are pro TM, the odds of that happening seem much more likely.  GZ will have far more hater the believers posting IMO.


    actually, that's sort of what i was (5.00 / 2) (#33)
    by cpinva on Tue May 01, 2012 at 12:32:50 PM EST
    thinking as well, ms. merrit's comments to the contrary notwithstanding. the risk of turning this into a circus, with adverse affects for his client, seems very high. it would seem to me a lower profile approach would have made far more sense.

    the bottom line is that nothing the public has to say about the matter will have the least bit of impact on the trial (assuming there is one), and mr. zimmerman is simply opening himself and his family up to all sorts of potentially negative consequences.

    but hey, that's just my 2.37 cents worth.


    Assuming... (none / 0) (#36)
    by ScottW714 on Tue May 01, 2012 at 12:50:05 PM EST
    ...the jury is sequestered.

    It's already a circus (none / 0) (#64)
    by SuzieTampa on Tue May 01, 2012 at 06:18:45 PM EST
    In the beginning, Zimmerman and his family were not commenting, and that gave Ben Crump the time to try to shape the public's perception.

    If O'Mara gave out only an occasional news release, I guarantee reporters would dig up something. The bosses understand that a sensational case is good business. If reporters say there's nothing new to report, bosses will encourage them to find something.  


    Agree (none / 0) (#18)
    by AngryBlackGuy on Tue May 01, 2012 at 11:22:31 AM EST
    the martin family has had (none / 0) (#26)
    by Jeralyn on Tue May 01, 2012 at 12:13:35 PM EST
    a website for a long time, it raises funds.

    I think it's dangerous (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by Towanda on Tue May 01, 2012 at 10:59:25 AM EST
    from experience with having to monitor websites, and I would think that TL would see the danger as well.  Trash posts up for even half a minute can be screen-captured and spread widely, while the host is still trying to delete the trash posts.

    The theory that this will save the law firm from having to hire someone to disseminate information and field calls the old-fashioned, human way is problematic, as the law firm will have to have someone monitoring the website(s), too.

    I have to wonder how familiar are O'Mara and his law firm with social media, fraught with perils.  But heck, it may create more job openings for my media-savvy son and other info science grads!


    perhaps they (none / 0) (#21)
    by Jeralyn on Tue May 01, 2012 at 11:59:46 AM EST
    have a system where comments are held for moderation before being accepted and posted. I haven't tried to post a comment, but many sites operate that way.

    Facebook does not operate that way (none / 0) (#22)
    by ruffian on Tue May 01, 2012 at 12:02:18 PM EST
    from what I have seen. Maybe there are more controls that corporate type pages get.

    i was referring to the (none / 0) (#28)
    by Jeralyn on Tue May 01, 2012 at 12:14:10 PM EST

    Yes, but Towanda's point applies to (5.00 / 3) (#30)
    by ruffian on Tue May 01, 2012 at 12:24:08 PM EST
    both sites. I don't see how these social media presences are going to save the firm any manpower.  There are other good reasons to have them though, some of which could backfire if they are not careful.

    Moderation aka monitoring (none / 0) (#38)
    by Towanda on Tue May 01, 2012 at 01:34:19 PM EST
    can work for websites -- although again, you are recommending a lot of work for a law firm -- but not for Facebook.  I was referring to both forms of social media but could have expanded my comment to make clear the distinctions; perhaps incorrectly, I presumed that posters here know their social media.

    Don't Know Nothin' 'Bout . . . (none / 0) (#49)
    by nomatter0nevermind on Tue May 01, 2012 at 04:40:20 PM EST
    I know almost nothing about social media. I only recently signed on to MySpace and Facebook. I tried to access one MySpace page, after getting an invitation with a product I had purchased. I was refused access anyway, and I haven't done anything else with either of them.

    please see my update (none / 0) (#34)
    by Jeralyn on Tue May 01, 2012 at 12:34:06 PM EST
    to the post about the Martin family's website.

    Okay (5.00 / 0) (#35)
    by sj on Tue May 01, 2012 at 12:39:22 PM EST
    Don't think it's a real analogue.  There are no criminal charges pending against Martin.  Not the same issues/pitfalls/benefits at all, imo.

    commenters here (none / 0) (#41)
    by Jeralyn on Tue May 01, 2012 at 02:02:54 PM EST
    particularly ABG were assuming they did not have such a site, and a discussion based on that erroneous assumption ensued here. Rather than delete those comments, I posted the update.

    ABG and others (none / 0) (#42)
    by Jeralyn on Tue May 01, 2012 at 02:04:12 PM EST
    do not reprint here prejudicial comments you find elsewhere. A comment by ABG doing so has been deleted.

    Understood (none / 0) (#44)
    by AngryBlackGuy on Tue May 01, 2012 at 02:18:35 PM EST
    My point in quoting the comments is that right now comments exist on Zimmerman's facebook page that everyone agrees are prejudicial.  The hypothetical we have been discussing is real and happening right now.  The O'Mara moderators are not censoring everything.

    Thus, the consistent position would be to call for the Zimmerman Facebook page to be shut down.

    The actual webpage itself doesn't seem to have this issue, and seems OK as it is now.


    I give that Facebook page about a week (5.00 / 1) (#78)
    by ruffian on Tue May 01, 2012 at 07:47:31 PM EST
    I just think it will be more trouble than it's worth. A cautious attorney would shut it down.

    In my opinion, a "cautious" (5.00 / 1) (#82)
    by oculus on Tue May 01, 2012 at 07:59:52 PM EST
    attorney would not have permited the setting up of the page to begin with.  

    Very true! (none / 0) (#84)
    by ruffian on Tue May 01, 2012 at 09:27:31 PM EST
    Maybe O'Mara has done this for other casss too. I guess I should accord him the presumption of knowing what he is doing.

    Zimmerman is involved in a (2.00 / 0) (#53)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue May 01, 2012 at 04:56:30 PM EST
    court case that could send him to jail. He's one man and a lawyer against all the powers of the state of FL as well as all the hostile and incorrect media generated by Sharpton and others that has undoubtedly poisoned the jury pool and generated speculation that if he is acquitted there will be riots.

    This isn't a game.

    This isn't a debate.

    We don'r all get to go have a beer after it's done.

    It is life. Real life.

    Zimmerman needs and deserves all the legal, monetary and societal help he can get.


    The jury pool around here does not look (5.00 / 0) (#79)
    by ruffian on Tue May 01, 2012 at 07:51:16 PM EST
    particularly kindly on Sharpton, and the only people I hear talking about riots are right wingers who always speculate that non-whites are on a hair trigger to riot. If there is evidence presented in a fair trial that leads to acquittal I have confidence calm will prevail.

    Not Just the Right (none / 0) (#86)
    by nomatter0nevermind on Tue May 01, 2012 at 10:48:19 PM EST
    I have seen concern about civil disorder from people who are left of center.

    I think televised legal proceedings will have a calming effect.

    The immunity hearing may do this as well as a trial would.


    I posted to the FB site (none / 0) (#63)
    by SuzieTampa on Tue May 01, 2012 at 06:10:47 PM EST
    and it took about a minute to show up. Using social media responsibly may help set standards in the future. In addition to the Martin family's site, their attorneys and PR agent have been using social media, at least from the first 2 weeks, if not earlier. O'Mara is doing it in an out-in-the-open fashion, not using surrogates such as Sharpton and Jackson.


    I am trying to envision the run-up (none / 0) (#66)
    by oculus on Tue May 01, 2012 at 06:29:01 PM EST
    to double homicide trial of O.J. Simpson coupled with social media with comments from whomever.  

    I had that same thought earlier today. What a (none / 0) (#69)
    by Angel on Tue May 01, 2012 at 06:42:26 PM EST
    trial that was, and the sensation it caused. This could be excellent drama for television viewing just like the OJ trial was.  Twitter this and Facebook that.  Pass the popcorn!

    I don't know about that (none / 0) (#76)
    by ruffian on Tue May 01, 2012 at 07:45:43 PM EST
    This case is lacking celebrity, s** and any kind of whodunit mystery.

    I'm sure it will be big on social media unless something more sensational comes along, but I don't see it being anything like OJ.


    See Casey Anthony. (none / 0) (#77)
    by oculus on Tue May 01, 2012 at 07:47:18 PM EST
    Even that was nothing compared to OJ (none / 0) (#80)
    by ruffian on Tue May 01, 2012 at 07:55:04 PM EST
    as I recall it. For one thing, the trial itself did not last for over a year.

    The anger at acquittal is there, but does not seem as much to me.


    A Restorative Justice approach... (none / 0) (#85)
    by mike in dc on Tue May 01, 2012 at 09:52:02 PM EST
    ...might have led to a better outcome here.  But of course, victim-offender mediation ideally involves an offender willing to be held accountable for their actions.  

    hard to do when (none / 0) (#89)
    by Jeralyn on Tue May 01, 2012 at 11:32:20 PM EST
    one side is clamoring for the arrest of the other and publicly advocating he be charged with a crime. We don't know that there is an "offender" in this case. We only know there was a shooting and one person was killed. If the shooting was done in lawful self-defense, there's no reason for the person who did the shooting to offer himself up for accountability.

    Not every killing is a crime. People should not assume there was a crime committed here until all the relevant, admissible facts come out in court and a judge or jury has made a decision.


    this thread is closing early (none / 0) (#90)
    by Jeralyn on Wed May 02, 2012 at 07:55:10 AM EST
    Just as I'm not interested in hosting comments about Trayvon Martin's Twitter page, I have no intent of hosting comments about George Zimmerman's My Space page. Neither will be an issue in the criminal proceedings, and that's what this site is covering. You will have to discuss it elsewhere.