Gloria Fletcher: Control in a high-profile trial
Published: Monday, July 8, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 5, 2013 at 10:49 p.m.
In this area, as with the rest of the nation, we're watching closely the trial of George Zimmerman. The neighborhood watch volunteer is charged with murdering teen Trayvon Martin last year in Central Florida. Zimmerman is claiming self-defense; the prosecutor believes Zimmerman profiled and pursued Martin, and forced a confrontation.
So far in the racially charged and high-profile trial, there's been a mix of control and decorum from the bench — and questionable lines from attorneys. Except for an ill-placed "joke" during the defense attorney's opening, the case seems to be advancing smoothly.
From my perspective, the judge is controlling the courtroom quite well. This is a significant departure from the antics and circus-like atmosphere surrounding the trial of Jodi Arias. In that case, everyone seemed to realize the spotlight was on the courtroom. Attorneys sparred with witnesses. The judge seemed to lose control. Attorneys and pundits nationwide cringed and joked at the antics.
This time, it seems the judge is controlling the courtroom very well. She is ruling quickly, and thus defined the rules of the trial. She has made clear that she expects the attorneys to handle the matter with professionalism.
That said, the defense attorney's opening with a "knock-knock" joke seemed beneath the system. As with any case — especially a murder trial — the stakes are high. In this case, a man is on trial and faces a severe penalty. A teenager is dead. Even the American criminal justice system has much to lose — or gain — depending on how the proceedings go.
I would ask the attorney: What, exactly, is funny about this situation? Sadly, this is how the legal profession tends to get its reputation.
I — and many other criminal defense attorneys in Florida and nationally — hope this was a one-time departure and the case will maintain the decorum and professionalism that the American criminal justice system, Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman all deserve.
Gloria Fletcher is a Gainesville attorney and vice president of Florida's Children First.