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Scott Greenfield on Todd Willingham’s Lawyer: irresponsible, unethical, improper, utterly disgraceful

By , October 17, 2009

Simple Justice: Never Smear Your Own Client, Not Even In Death

I suspect many lawyers will agree with Scott Greenfield’s criticism of Todd Willingham’s trial lawyer’s (David Martin) appearance on CNN Thursday, October 15. Here is an except from Greenfield’s blog “Simple Justice”:

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Martin has no grossly improper motive, like he’s been promised a judgeship by Perry if he does everything in his power to undermine the evidence of Willingham’s innocence.  If Martin truly believes what he’s saying to be true, his statements are the most irresponsible, unethical, improper I have ever heard from the mouth of a criminal defense lawyer.  Outrageously wrong. Utterly disgraceful.

He may not be tainted by the fact of Willingham’s conviction, but he should be forever tainted by his overt effort to argue the guilt of his client. Worst still, if that’s possible, is his apparent use of confidential information to bolster his claim.  Willingham may be dead, but his privileged communications are buried with him.  They aren’t Martin’s to reveal at his convenience.

Mom’s old adage, if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all, applies.  Martin is under no duty to come forward to argue Willingham’s innocence, especially if he doesn’t believe it to be true.  But under no circumstances should he come forward to argue Willingham’s guilt.  Don’t want to argue innocence?  Fine, then stay on the ranch and off TV.  Keep your mouth shut and say nothing. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

Bennett ponders whether Martin was enjoying his 15 minutes of fame, his opportunity to go on Anderson Cooper and be the Big Man.  It’s clear from the interview that Martin is inadept at television interviews, given his slow, long-winded, pedantic speech pattern, refusal to give the floor to the host and background muttering of “this is absurd.”  That would explain why Martin, with nothing good to say about his client, agreed to go on air, but it offers no explanation for his egregious breach of trust.

There is no ethical duty of perpetual loyalty to one’s client.  A lawyer need not argue the client’s innocence after his representation has ended.  But that doesn’t mean that the alternative is to smear his client, to argue his guilt, to expose his confidences, either.  If Martin so desperately wanted his moment in the sun, then his options were limited to speaking in his client’s best interest or discussing issues surrounding the present circumstances.  There was no option of exposing communications, investigations, thoughts that existed solely within the defense.  Martin had no right to offer that up in exchange for the opportunity to go on TV in his Texas rancher hat and tout himself at the expense of his client.

If I was forced to explain Martin, the best I could offer is that he now fears that Willingham’s death is on his shoulders for his failure as a lawyer to have adequately represented his client.  Even though the fingers aren’t point at him, he believes in the back of his mind that he failed miserably.  Perhaps he anticipates that eventually the fingers will come around to him, point at him, blame him, for his incompetence.  Perhaps he knows something we don’t, that there’s good reason for the fingers to point at him.  Perhaps he is responsible for the death of Cameron Todd Willingham.  This is merely his pre-emptive way of deflecting responsibility.

Even now, Martin’s description of the “scientific method” the defense team used to determine the accuracy of the arson claim rings ridiculous.  They bought lighter fluid, burned a carpet, and it looked just like the carpet in Willingham’s home?  That’s what he claims is proof that his client was guilty?  Nowthat’s absurd.


Here is the video of David Martin on CNN:

3 Responses to “Scott Greenfield on Todd Willingham’s Lawyer: irresponsible, unethical, improper, utterly disgraceful”

  1. John Lentini says:

    Mr. Martin’s statement about conducting an experiment with lighter fluid and getting the exact same kind of patterns that he saw in the Willingham residence actually proves the point of the fire scientists who have researched the development of fire patterns in fully involved compartments.

    While it is true that you can make a pattern with an ignitable liquid in the open, you can make that same pattern without an ignitable liquid inside a compartment. Patterns produced during full room involvement can look exactly like patterns produced by an ignitable liquid, and care must be taken in their interpretation. In fact, if the laboratory report comes back negative, the pattern should be attributed to the radiation that accompanies full room involvement.

  2. Betty Clark says:

    David Martin’s professional expertise does not include fire and arson investigation, not that his interview with Anderson Cooper doesn’t call into question his expertise in other professional arenas.

  3. Stan says:

    “They bought lighter fluid, burned a carpet, and it looked just like the carpet in Willingham’s home?”

    Couldn’t that also prove David Martin could have started the fire himself?

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