Fordham Law

Verdict boosts standing of Casey Anthony lawyer Jose Baez

Deborah Denno in Orlando Sentinel, July 05, 2011

Media Source

July 05, 2011|By Anthony Colarossi, Orlando Sentinel

Several months ago, one of José Baez's most articulate critics wondered whether he would have a "My Cousin Vinny" moment at trial.

The reference to the 1992 Joe Pesci movie was amusing but poignant, too: The comedy explored how a rookie defense lawyer from Brooklyn managed to learn his craft on the fly and spare two young murder suspects from being convicted in a Deep South courtroom.

With Casey Anthony acquitted of the most serious charges against her Tuesday, the pundits debated whether it was Baez's lawyering or the state's circumstantial case that cleared the woman. But one thing is certain: Baez's stock rose mightily with the outcome this trial.

And if America loves a Cinderella story, what better place to have it told than here in Orlando, in the shadow of a castle named for that long-shot winner?

"The best feeling that I have today is that I know I can go home and my daughter will ask me, 'What did you do today?' " Baez said, "and I can say, 'I saved a life.' "

His post-acquittal statement was somewhat tempered and restrained for a personality such as Baez, who has exuded bravado and confidence, despite bloggers dubbing him "Bozo." His self-assurance was more evident in a response he text-messaged to an Orlando Sentinel reporter late Tuesday: "I told you two years ago that I was going to shock the world."

Even those who challenge his abilities as a lawyer would have a hard time denying his fierce advocacy for this particular client.

"I think the story to take away from this is: He is a wonderful advocate for his client, a zealous advocate," said Fordham law Professor Deborah Denno. "I think he could have been viewed as a protector."

Exactly how the jurors viewed Baez is unknown because they refused to speak with reporters Tuesday. But Denno noted that Baez's critics were often other lawyers who pointed out the things he was doing wrong at trial but not suggesting better alternatives.

"What else was he going to do with this particular case?" Denno asked. "He came up with an alternative story. Even if you didn't fully buy that story, he did come up with another story. He took some big risks in his opening statement, but they paid off for him."

As for Baez's legal bumblings, improper questioning and apparent problems following the rules of criminal procedure, Denno noted that these are things legal professionals notice, but maybe not jurors.