Click Here To Purchase Spinning the Law: Trying Cases in the Court of Public Opinion

Author: Kendall Coffey

Publisher: Prometheus Books
ISBN 978-1-61614-210-0

Kendall Coffey, author of Spinning The Law, has been on defense teams for some of our nation’s most tawny legal cases ranging from Elian Gonzalez to the Presidential recount in 2000. (inside back cover, 2011) He is well versed in navigating the media minefield and offers some sage tips regarding the media in this book. Previously Mr. Coffey was a US Attorney leading one of the largest federal prosecutorial teams. He has been a news commentator on legal cases for the Today Show, Larry King Live, Good Morning America, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Headline News.

Mr. Coffey recounts some of the more notable legal cases in recent US history beginning with the runoff election of Miami, Florida mayor, Joe Carollo. During this particular debacle the city of Miami was experiencing a very difficult time financially speaking and the voters were divided between support for the incumbent and the newcomer. The challenger to the incumbent mayor was Xavier Suarez in this race. At the end of the election day Carollo was predicted to be the winner by a slim margin of votes. Suarez backed by his supporters brought suit positing election misconduct. They specifically defined election misconduct in this case as team Carollo using dead people to vote for his side via absentee ballot. This was 1997. Miami has always been known as a very diverse, tolerant, and mostly inclusive populace. However, that tone would not last throughout this process. Coffey remarks that this scenario created “a chronically polarized community in which everyone is part of some minority.” (2011, p. 17) And every group had some twist on who may have been marginalized in this electoral process. This story was in the media day in and day out as investigative journalists sought to break this controversial case wide open and get to the bottom of these allegations. Some reporters may have had their eye on an even larger reward, a Pulitzer Prize. I happened to live in Florida at this time and found this case study of particular interest.

Another biggie was the O.J. Simpson trial. O.J. was accused of brutally killing his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman. (2011, p.64) Because of the fame associated with O.J. he was a media magnet. Recall the slow motion chase scene across the California interstate with O.J. nearly suicidal in his bronco? Coffey states that “…95 million Americans had watched all or part of the chase.”(2011, p.61) Afterward O.J began to see that he required the help of defense attorneys to contain certain things before it became a complete train wreck. Numerous times as this case unfolded O.J. and his “dream team” was highlighted in our news. Relying on what the press presented as fact, people across our nation were divided between believing that O.J was capable of such heinous crimes and finding him absolutely incapable of such. The facts, or alleged facts, in this case changed nearly daily. As the defense began to spin their version of events fingers were pointed at possible police misconduct at the crime scene. They interjected the possibility that the circumstantial evidence was purposefully place at O.J.’s residence because of a vendetta against him. Like the commercials for E.F. Hutton, the media spoke and everyone listened. Before this case was even before a judge the court of public opinion had been hearing the latest news stories and determining whether or not he did it. The L.A. Times alone printed over 1,000 stories about this case. I recall being glued to the television at this time. I could not get enough O.J. court time. I listened to the news pundits once the trial day was done to see how the legal professionals believed each side was faring. I was one of millions of people addicted to O.J.. I had a hard time believing that he could have been part of this bloody murder and therefore had formulated my opinion for his innocence. Apparently, those on the jury also felt there was not enough information presented by the prosecution to call a guilty verdict. On that note, one cannot contest the important role that media played in that trial alone with over 147 million people watching or listening over the radio for that particular verdict. (p.62)

Elian Gonzalez is another of the special cases that author, Coffey, partook in personally. November 1999 a six year old Cuban born boy was picked up by a sportfisher off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. He had been on a boat that sunk. His stepfather had lashed him to an inner tube. For three days he drifted in the surf before being saved. Prior to the boat sinking Elian’s father called his relatives in Miami and informed them that Elain, his mother, and stepfather were enroute to Miami via boat. He asked that they take good care of them when they arrived. Elian’s mother and stepfather were never found. INS released him [Elian] to Lazaro Gonzalez, his great uncle. His cousin became a key caretaker. Normally this case would not have gained the notoriety that it did, but it became a contest between countries, the USA and Cuba. Again, the media had played a leading role in shaping public opinion about this case.

Other high-brow cases depicted in this book are Kobe Bryant, Scott Peterson, Michael Vick, Michael Jackson, and more. Coffey offers up tidbits pro and con the media depending on the specific set of circumstances set before each case. He states that some legal teams believe that they should never be in the public eye as this can prejudice their cases and harm their clients. Others seem addicted to the veritable feast that the media can present and seek to be in the center as often as media permits.

The crux of this book is not to discount the role that the media plays in high profile legal cases. Coffey advises of when contact with the media is a good thing and when defense and prosecutorial attorneys should just say no. A good attorney will have good relationships with reporters and know who to call when. There are historical accounts of cases that were tried first in the court of public opinion and later had tainted potential jury pools with too much information causing reason to move for change in venue in order to best serve the accused. For anyone interested in how the media can shape your legal landscape this, especially in celebrity cases, this is a must read.

Click Here To Purchase Spinning the Law: Trying Cases in the Court of Public Opinion