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article imageOp-Ed: Jose Baez — past, present, and future

By Alexander Baron     Aug 5, 2011 in Crime
Orlando - When the jury acquitted Casey Anthony of all major charges at her murder trial, some people suggested the future looked bright for Jose Baez, but were they being over-optimistic?
First, credit where credit is due; Jose Baez took on a make or break case pro bono in the first instance; the odds were stacked against him, and he gave it his all, defending his reviled client with extreme vigour. It is probably not too much of an exaggeration to say her acquittal stunned the world, but a cold appraisal of the facts suggests this was a once in a lifetime performance.
For a lawyer, Mr Baez has a somewhat off-beat past; after passing the written test for the Florida Bar he was denied admission because of a list of complaints about his personal and financial conduct. This decision was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court eleven years ago. He was said to have neglected to pay child support, a complaint apparently brought by his first wife. It was another five years before he was considered fit to practice.
In March 2010, about a year before the trial of his life, Mr Baez made a very wise decision, he invited a very experienced attorney onto his team, J. Cheney Mason. Even so, and in spite of the stunning verdict, his performance both in and out of court was far from spectacular, and at times bordered on the scandalous. It is clear from the post-trial interviews that Casey Anthony was acquitted in spite of rather than because of his advocacy; it is arguable that of the 300 million plus population of the United States, the Orlando court managed to select for the jury the only twelve people who did not understand the concept of reasonable doubt, or that they could convict without being certain of the cause of death.
Throughout the trial and indeed before the trial he was not simply bullish but insulting to the point of obnoxiousness, branding Roy Kronk morally bankrupt. Mr Kronk’s only role in this affair was to find the body of Caylee Anthony, yet he was treated as though he was responsible for Caylee’s death.
Although his full history did not come out, it was not too difficult to read between the lines, and this showed Roy Kronk as a rather sad figure. At the time, he was working as a meter reader, having at one time worked for the US Coast Guard, a considerably retrograde step. He had obviously had some difficulty in his life, perhaps drink, perhaps something else; although he had been married, he was now living alone, and was estranged from his son, who had followed in his father’s footsteps. He appears to have seen his finding Caylee’s body as a means of building a bridge with this young man, a bridge that sadly never materialised.
Prosecutor Jeff Ashton explained why the State did not put Mr Kronk on the stand, but in spite of the innuendo and scorn heaped on him by Mr Baez, he made a good hostile witness, and it soon transpired that the circumstances under which Caylee Marie Anthony’s body was found threw suspicion not on Mr Kronk, but on Casey.
Then there was the way Mr Baez abused George Anthony on the witness stand, a process WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer alluded to, rightly, as psychological torture. This was the man Mr Baez accused in his opening statement of sexually abusing his daughter Casey from a young age, which was an integral part of the defense case. In the absence of physical evidence and an admission from George Anthony, about the only way Mr Baez could prove such allegations was by putting his client on the stand. When no such admission was forthcoming, Mr Baez was stuffed, because if Casey Anthony had testified, she would have been subjected to an intensive cross-examination not only about this (obviously non-existent) sexual abuse but about all the other lies she had told. After she elected not to take the stand, Mr Baez was told prior to his closing speech that he could not make any reference to this alleged sexual abuse, but he tried to all the same.
Then there was the little matter of Mr Baez and his approach to hearsay evidence. A good legal definition of hearsay is “A statement made out of court that is offered in court as evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.” Generally, hearsay is inadmissible in criminal proceedings, but there are lots of exceptions, and this is a very complex area of law. A document, any document, is prima facie hearsay, so a witness must be presented to testify as to its authenticity and the veracity of its contents. George Anthony had been considerably troubled by the disappearance of his granddaughter, and had at one point rented a hotel room where he wrote a long suicide note and would surely have taken his own life if he had not been traced in time.
Mr Baez questioned Mr Anthony about this note, and attempted to imply that his suicide attempt was linked to him sexually abusing his daughter. When he was unable to maintain this, he claimed the note was hearsay.
He tried too to introduce hearsay evidence that Casey’s brother Lee had sexually abused her. He did this by questioning another witness who testified that Casey had so told him (although Mr Baez appears to have been hoping this claim would relate to George Anthony). The problem with this is that what Casey tells someone else is hearsay, and not evidence of anything that happened to Casey. All the same, Mr Baez attempted to force through this claim as evidence of Casey suffering sexual abuse at the hands of her brother, which the court rightly refused to allow. For such evidence to have been admitted, Casey would have had to testify herself, which would of course have entailed her being cross-examined, a luxury Mr Baez realised he could not afford.
Mr Baez even attempted to impeach the testimony of expert witnesses by asking them how much they had been paid, and suggesting they stood to profit improperly from their testimony. He might just as well have asked the court stenographer or even the judge such ludicrous questions. In short, everyone was lying, corrupt, or on the take except him and his client.
Mr Baez is still representing Casey Anthony, and yesterday, Friday, he was back in court arguing matters related to her earlier conviction for check fraud on her behalf – although she was not present herself.
How successful is Mr Baez likely to be with future high profile cases? This is a lawyer who was found in contempt of court and fined, and whose objections were persistently over-ruled while objections to his questioning were repeatedly sustained by a judge who was manifestly fair.
A recent episode of the TV series Law & Order: UK summed up the approach used by Mr Baez. A courtroom exchange therein included the following dialogue: “Is my learned friend simply hurling mud left, right and centre and seeing where it lands, or does this bear any relevance to the question of his client’s guilt?”
And later, “...if you cause enough confusion, the jury won’t know who to believe.”
Unfortunately, those two phrases sum up the approach used by Mr Baez. He has surely had his fifteen minutes of fame, and in response to the question, can he do it again? one can only answer “No way, Jose”.
How would Mr Baez defend a man on a rape charge? First he would accuse the victim of making it up; then he’d claim she'd had consensual sex. Finally, he’d say she deserved it. There is only so much razzle dazzle any jury can take – as in that song from the classic musical Chicago where Richard Gere intones
“What if your hinges all are rusting?
What if, in fact, you're just disgusting?
Razzle dazzle 'em
And they’ll never catch wise!”
It would be uncharitable to suggest that Mr Baez is just disgusting, but the acquittal of Casey Anthony surely represents the zenith of his legal career. He should seriously consider writing a book and retiring on the proceeds, otherwise like many truly great fighters before him such as Sugar Ray Leonard, he is likely to end up flat on his back and counted out, a fate from which all the razzle dazzle in the world will not save him.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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