Jose Baez: When Farce Becomes Reality

Live long enough and the line between reality and farce becomes blurred: If we can imagine something happening, reality has a way of overtaking our fancy, and presenting as fact that which we conceived of simply as an entertaining possibility. Consider the case of State v. Casey Anthony, and the unlikely hero of the tale, her lawyer, Jose Baez.

You never heard of Baez prior to the trial. That’s because the young lawyer was only recently admitted to the bar, in 2005, after being denied admission by the Florida bar’s character and fitness czars. The 1997 law graduate had issues with bankruptcy, back child support and other financial decisions that led the bar to conclude he was unfit to practice law.

Baez came up through the school of hard knocks. He is a high school drop out who earned a GED. A military veteran. An entrepreneur who tried and apparently failed to make a living selling bikinis, and then worked as an Internet entrepreneur. He worked as a staff at Lexis/Nexis for a spell, teaching lawyers and judges how to do online research.

The bar punched his ticket in 2005, and soon he gained a reputation in his local community as a fighter. When Casey Anthony was charged with the murder of her daughter, Caylee, fellow inmates recommended Baez. For three years, he stood by his client’s side. He was lead counsel at trial, earning rebuke after rebuke by the judge, and the scorn of commentators who thought his tactics unschooled and unconventional. He was a goat until the verdict was returned, and now he is all smiles.

Did someone say My Cousin Vinnie? Already, online wits are referring to the 42-year-old barrister as the next Johnnie, or is it Jaunnie?, Cochrane. The reality of what Baez accomplished in the Anthony trial now makes My Cousin Vinnie look less like entertainment than Continuing Legal Education for lawyers. Reality becomes farce, you see. 

I don’t know how Caylee died. Neither did prosecutors in Florida. Neither do you. But judging by the reaction to the verdict in her case, most folks assume Casey killed her and that she got away with murder. But as one of the jurors in the case told a reporter, the state simply did not prove its case. You can’t convict on suspicion.

It would not surprise me to learn that federal prosecutors in Florida are burning the midnight oil trying to dream up some basis for federal jurisdiction to make another run at Anthony, in a trial before a judge with a firmer command of the courtroom than the hapless jurist, Belvin Perry, who presided, more or less, over the Anthony case. (Does it surprise you to learn that Perry is considering making a run now at reality TV?)Most prosecutors have the soul of a ward heeler: there are votes of a sort to be had trying to get Casey into court again. Good luck.

The choice of counsel in this case turned out to look inspired. Had the case gone the other way, Baez would be today’s goat, and critics would have skewered him as inexperienced and unqualified, much like the hapless lawyer, Joseph Rakofsky, who stood beside a murder defendant in Washington D.C. earlier this year: the judge in that case declared a mistrial.

The oddest thing about the trial? Casey’s father, George, is a former homicide detective. His daughter faces the death penalty, and hires a newbie to defend her. Her father had to know she was taking a huge risk. Is this the best her father could conceive for a lawyer? Or did he have his own reasons to hope for a conviction? That’s another question without answers.

Congratulation to Jose Baez. Enjoy the days and weeks to come, and keep an eye out for your next case. Second acts are brutal. In the meantime, I'm looking for a copy of the trial transcript in the Anthony case. Baez has plenty to teach.

Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.

Comments (3)
Posted on July 8, 2011 at 5:27 pm by OJ
Jose Baez
After watching very little of the trial...I wasn't that impressed. I think you can hammer either side. However, I knew there was trouble when the judge was asking a question "pacificly" about something or other. He fits the bill for a reality show....not much more. Our courts are a mess.

Posted on July 8, 2011 at 4:23 pm by Jose Baez
Anthony Trial
FINALLY, someone has given credit to Jose Baez for a job well done. I am also thankful that the jury went by the evidence and not by public opinion, media, or circumstantial evidence.

Posted on July 7, 2011 at 9:36 pm by Brendan
Jose Baez
Dear Norm:
Right on with Jose Baez. It was unbelievable how all the "experts" were killing this guy throughout the trial. However, during close, with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth, base loaded and down by three, Jose knocked it out of the park.

Also, the jury got this one right. The "mob at the gates" mentality is scary. As for the "experts," well, if it were up to Nancy Grace, the Duke Lacrosse players would still be in jail.
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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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