By Frances Robles, McClatchy Newspapers –
SANFORD, Fla. — Just as George Zimmerman’s attorney pushes the envelope of accepted legal practices by launching a social media operation for his client, another site has popped up that belonged to the controversial former neighborhood watchman.
This one is a seven-year old Myspace page called “only to be king again” that makes disparaging comments about Mexicans. The page, which his attorney confirmed Tuesday is legitimate, makes reference to 2005 criminal cases and a brush in court with a woman who Zimmerman called his “ex-hoe.”
There are several photos of Zimmerman on the page, and in one of them he appears to be wearing the same orange polo shirt that he donned in his 2005 mug shot. Zimmerman used the name “Joe G.” on the site and posted a biography that mentions he grew up in Manassas, Va., had recently opened an insurance business and missed all his friends.
Last month a Zimmerman Myspace page under the username “datniggytb” was taken down.
The Joe G page includes a missive written in street slang.
“I dont miss driving around scared to hit mexicans walkin on the side of the street, soft ass wanna be thugs messin with peoples cars when they aint around (what are you provin, that you can dent a car when no ones watchin) dont make you a man in my book,” the 2005 Myspace page said. “Workin 96 hours to get a decent pay check, gettin knifes pulled on you by every mexican you run into!”
The pictures posted on the page including several with an ethnically diverse group of friends. The blog section boasts about having two felonies knocked down to misdemeanors and describes a court battle with an ex-girlfriend. Zimmerman faced two felonies in 2005 for obstructing justice and battery on a law enforcement officer, but the cases were reduced to misdemeanor simple battery, and he was left with no criminal conviction on his record.
Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, confirmed the page was his client’s, and that it was abandoned in 2005.
The site, discovered by a Canadian crime-forum user, was the latest discovery in an ongoing social media battle in the Zimmerman case. The Feb. 26 shooting of Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin received its first groundswell of attention on social media platforms, which were later used to portray the victim in a negative light. Now the defense is embracing those social media tools to provide forums for discussion — and to raise money.
Trayvon Martin’s family took to the Web to raise funds and to gather petitions to demand criminal charges against Zimmerman. Now his killer’s lawyer uses the medium to raise funds, post articles and announcements and dispel rumors.
“We are not surprised to discover that our decision is controversial,” O’Mara posted on his site. “Some have called it unethical and some have called it brilliant; however, we believe much of the controversy is about the medium, not the message.
Last week, O’Mara said he ordered his client to wipe his Internet presence clean. Zimmerman took down his website, a Twitter account and any other social media accounts. Any remaining, O’Mara said, were fakes. Some even quoted Martin Luther King in ways O’Mara found in poor taste.
But once the defense attorney realized how much money Zimmerman had raised on the Web, he quickly set up a more polished website with a link to a professionally administered legal defense fund. O’Mara said he had agreed to take the case for free, but reconsidered once he learned he could be paid using upwards of $200,000 Zimmerman raised on the crudely made website he had taken down.
O’Mara hired Shawn Vincent of Orlando’s Digital Marketing Revolution to manage a Facebook page as well. Within hours of the page going up, hundreds of people had posted comments both for and against the defendant, and a few people with fake user names shared harsh opinions of Trayvon Martin’s family. One commenter on O’Mara’s Facebook said Trayvon’s mother was “mooching” off white people’s money.
Within 24 hours, the site was changed so that users must submit comments for review before they are posted. Insults were deleted. About 1,800 people have “liked” the page so far.
Jayne Navarre, a South Florida consultant who devises social media strategies for lawyers, said O’Mara’s use of social media will “almost certainly” taint a jury pool and compromise Zimmerman’s shot at a fair trial. She said O’Mara also may be violating American Bar Association rules that prohibit a lawyer from helping third parties make prohibited extrajudicial comments.
While use of social media has risen exponentially in the legal field, “what we have not seen is a criminal defense attorney host social media channels on behalf of their client,” Navarre said. “I would not be surprised to learn that members of the Bar are shocked and even disgusted.”
American Bar Association rules say a lawyer can speak publicly on a case, as long as it does not prejudice a potential jury. The association is revamping its rules now to address social media, she said.
Lawyers usually use social media to advertise, educate, network, or recruit employees, she said. Some lawyers and judges have been sanctioned for inappropriate use of social media.
Until now, Navarre said the most unusual case study of a law firm using social media was in 2010, when the Massachusetts-based class action firm Sokolove Law Inc. launched the first known niche social networking site devoted to engaging potential and current class members in online discussions about the birth control pill YAZ. But the site was considered advertising and was deemed in compliance with ABA rules, she said.
“The tactic certainly was cutting edge, and I don’t think the Bar saw any writing on the wall,” Navarre said. “I find in my social media consulting practice that many lawyers are still dragging their feet for various reasons, the least of which is privacy and time, and just as many have simply resigned to the fact that it exists and take the attitude of ‘if you can’t beat em, join em.’ Others find it unprofessional, period.”