Can an Attorney Go Too Far to Prove a Point in Court?
A story from the Miami Herald recently informed us that during a trial the defendant’s lawyer rushed from the courtroom during his closing statements after his pocket burst into flames. The lawyer claims that it was a faulty e-cigarette battery, but some are speculating that it was a staged attempt to demonstrate a point. His client was on trial for arson after allegedly setting his car on fire, but said that the car burst into flames spontaneously.
Antics in front of the jury are common. I recall my trial where my client had a minor physical injury but had been made to cry on the witness stand by the defense attorney blaming him for some pretty bad stuff alleged to have happened when he was injured. I was representing him for minor injuries. It was very early in my career. My client’s testimony was that he relived that bad stuff when he would drop something because of his minor physical injury. I said during closing argument, “What do you think my client relives each time he drops something?” I dropped a piece of paper and sat down. It was a very exciting moment for me as a young advocate when the jury came back with an award for my client. The antics there were in bound and not objected to.
The problem with the lawyers pocket being on fire which may bring the arm of the law down on the lawyer if he intended it, is that scaring people with fire or smoke is against the law for fear that someone will get hurt trying to get away, the fire department might be called, or some other harm will result from the fear. Another within bounds example of what some called antics at the time comes from a lawyer in Hartford who sang to the jury the old song “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” in a case where his client was claiming damages for a scar.
We spend a lot of time taking our clients’ cases seriously and thinking about what memorable act or action we might take to drive home to the jury (within bounds) the nature of the injuries. Expect your lawyer to do the same, but don’t expect to see his or her pants go up on flames unless they screw up and they are going down in flames, in which case call us. We sue lawyers who screw up.