Crime, Lawyer of the Day, Litigators, Murder, Trials

Lawyer of the Day: Jose Baez, Counsel to Casey Anthony

Anyone who is a lawyer knows that sinking feeling. The feeling that comes when someone else finds out you’re a lawyer and starts telling you about whatever garden-variety awfulness has visited their lives. They prattle on about who knows what, because you’ve tuned out. But they keep going and the inevitable finally arrives at the end of their embarrassing story. “So you’re a lawyer. What should I do?”

If you’re quick-witted enough to come up with a response and slow-footed enough not to run away, you tell them that there are lawyers with really big advertisements in the yellow pages who could probably help them out. You grab your pizza rolls, Funyuns, and Olde English, and you slowly back out of the store.

This is what you do when you’re wise enough to know that being a lawyer doesn’t mean you can tackle any legal quandary or situation. When you know that there are situations better served by better lawyers. This is what you do when you are not named Jose Baez.

Baez has made quite the name for himself as the attorney for Casey Anthony. She’s the chick accused of killing her daughter, and Baez is the freshly minted lawyer who thinks he has the right stuff to keep her from being executed by the state of Florida.

Spoiler alert: Jose Baez does not appear to have the right stuff, at least in my opinion. After the jump, learn a bit about Señor Baez, his kooky past, and his unwavering commitment to himself…

Any lawyer trying to make his way in the shark-infested waters of lawyerdom would kill to be profiled by a national news outlet like ABC. That is, unless the profile in question is a hit piece that makes you look like a bit of a buffoon. Here’s how ABC’s profile of Baez begins:

Like many attorneys defending a client facing the death penalty, Casey Anthony’s attorney recently moved for a mistrial. While the strategy is common, Jose Baez’s reasoning was not. He claimed the evidence disparaged his character.

Ruh roh.

The evidence in question is a tape of Casey Anthony’s father asking her whether she is comfortable with Baez representing her and whether the attorney is merely “building a reputation for himself.” Oh, he’s building a reputation for himself, alright. A reputation for amazing feats of derring-do and imaginative theories of the case. To wit:

Baez stunned the courtroom by arguing in his opening statements that his client had lied all along about Caylee being kidnapped by a nanny, and announced that the toddler had drowned in the family pool on June 16, 2008.

Casey Anthony’s nearly three year lie, he claimed, was part of a bizarre coping mechanism she developed from years of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Baez also suggested that George Anthony helped dispose of Caylee’s body. No witness, including George Anthony, has corroborated the defense’s claims.

Parental abuse. It almost worked in the Menendez Brothers case, so why wouldn’t it work here? Well, for starters it’s a bit tough to draw a line from sexual abuse to mere lying without the jury going that step further and assuming your client was so messed up that she also committed murder. If you’re going to claim the crazies, you really have to push all your chips to the middle of the table and admit off the bat that your client did the dirty deed. Legal philosopher Big Daddy Kane once said there Ain’t No Half-Steppin’. I tend to agree.

In addition to his bizarre opening, Baez has seemingly failed in his cross-examinations, prompting another attorney to opine:

[Prominent Florida lawyer Diana] Tennis said that Baez frequently makes objections the judge has already ruled on and during cross examination, he asks questions that he doesn’t know the answer to, a no no for an attorney.

Nothing wrong with a bit of intellectual curiosity. Baez is merely finding his way. Exploring the space. If the guy doesn’t learn now, with Casey Anthony’s life in his hands, when will he ever learn?

Because he does need to learn. He needs to learn because, when he first hooked up with Casey Anthony, he had been an attorney for all of three years. Now, that doesn’t mean he had just graduated from law school. Nope, he graduated from law school in 1997, and had been denied admission to the Florida Bar for eight years. Denied admission because:

An order by the Supreme Court of Florida states that he was denied admission because of his failure to pay child support to his ex-wife and secure life and health insurance for his teenage daughter. It states that he had previously declared bankruptcy, written bad checks and defaulted on student loans, the court said.

So from 1997 to 2005, what was he doing? Mostly awesome stuff, I guess:

In the eight years when Baez was fighting to be admitted to the Florida bar, he ran two bikini selling businesses and two nonprofits. The bikini businesses, Bon Bon Bikinis and, are both inactive, according to Florida’s public records. The nonprofit organizations centered around domestic violence prevention and advocating for children. They are both inactive now, according to public records. He also reportedly worked for Lexis Nexis.

Hey-zeus. This is the guy leading the defense for the most high-profile case in the country right now. Great.

According to this website, Florida has standards for who can be lead counsel in death penalty cases. Whether Baez meets these standards or not, it seems to me that he is ill-prepared to fight for a woman’s life.

Clarence Darrow once famously said:

No client of mine had ever been put to death, and I felt that it would almost, if not quite, kill me if it should ever happen.

I wouldn’t dare guess at Jose Baez’s motivations in this case. Perhaps he does feel as strongly as Darrow did about his clients. But feeling strongly about your clients is the bare minimum you can give them, only distantly related to competence. Sometimes — and maybe this is one of those times — you should feel strongly enough to know you’re horribly outclassed and someone else should take the reins. Baez clearly should grab his Funyuns and slowly back away.

If you’re so inclined, feel free to visit Baez’s barely-functioning website. You can also check out his opening statement here.

Casey Anthony’s Lawyer Jose Baez Has Trials of His Own [ABC News]

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