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Published: Saturday, 2/15/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

Lawyer warns of pitfalls in talking to media

Seminar looks at legal, journalism roles

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Well-known criminal defense lawyer Jamie Sultan was the keynote speaker at a seminar on Friday in downtown Toledo. Well-known criminal defense lawyer Jamie Sultan was the keynote speaker at a seminar on Friday in downtown Toledo.
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With few exceptions, attorney Jamie Sultan doesn’t talk to reporters about his clients in high-profile cases or discuss legal strategies before going to trial.

Mr. Sultan, a well-known criminal defense lawyer, said he takes into consideration two things when deciding whether he should go public with information about such clients: “First, am I required to divulge this? And secondly, will my client benefit from this?

“If the answer to either question is ‘no’ ... I will always prefer to remain silent and keep my cards hidden.”

During his speech Friday at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library to lawyers, judges, and journalists, the Boston attorney stayed true to his word about his current celebrity client, Aaron Hernandez.

Mr. Sultan failed to mention the former New England Patriot who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Odin Lloyd, 27, a semipro football player who was found dead June 17 in an industrial park not far from Mr. Hernandez’s suburban Boston home.

“If I have anything to say, I will probably say it in a pleading or in court, not in the press,” said Mr. Sultan, who was the keynote speaker at a seminar titled “Presiding Over, Litigating, and Covering High-Profile Cases: Rules, Approaches, and Problems.”

The seminar, sponsored by a new group called the Alliance of Judges, Lawyers, and Journalists, included discussions with panelists of lawyers, judges, editors, and reporters. Friday’s event was the debut of what the new group hopes is a series of similar events.

Among the topics and issues addressed were cameras in the courtroom, sequestering jurors, blogging, and the use of Twitter by journalists.

Mr. Sultan said lawyers who talk freely about cases to the media or appear on talk shows are only drawing attention to themselves and may be compromising client confidentiality and crossing over into conflicts of interests.

“As lawyers, we function as our client’s agent. Nothing more. Nothing less. We are not in this for ourselves,” he said.

As part of a panel discussing the lawyer’s perspective on high-profile cases, Jon Richardson, a Toledo criminal defense attorney, said it is foolish for attorneys to think they can manipulate the media to gain positive attention for their clients.

“The press is a powerful element in the courtroom that we have to deal with, but not necessarily love,” he said.

Local attorney Rick Kerger, also on the panel, added: “Never, never let your client talk to the media.”

Judge James Carr of U.S. District Court, who also spoke, urged journalists to refrain from being judgmental in reporting on criminal and civil cases, then continue following and reporting on cases until they end in sentencing to publicize the actual punishment. That serves as a deterrent to others by publicizing what offenders may face for committing the same crime, he said.

“The focus of the media is on the front end rather than on the outcome end,” he said.

Kurt Franck, vice president and executive editor of The Blade, who joined Mr. Sultan in one of the panel discussions of professional obligations with respect to the First Amendment, said his newspaper puts a high priority on accuracy in reporting what happens in the courtroom.

“A high-profile case is no different than any other case,” Mr. Franck said. “As long as we follow the law, get the news out, and do it in a fair and unbiased way, we have done our job.”

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com or 419-724-6199.



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