Attorneys in the Duke University lacrosse rape case are already doing battle in the court of public opinion, says USA Today. Their weapons include strategic leaks of e-mails, photos, audiotapes, bank records, and other materials aimed at casting either Duke lacrosse players or their alleged victim in an unfavorable light. “It’s a question of fighting fire with fire,” says John Wesley Hall, a Little Rock defense attorney and author of a book on lawyers’ professional responsibility. On March 14, a 27-year-old dancer told Durham, N.C., police she was raped by three men after performing at a party in a house rented by lacrosse team members. On Tuesday, after two team members were charged, lawyers showed reporters taxi cab and automated teller receipts and other records that suggested one of the two indicted men had left the party by the time the alleged attack took place.
The pretrial comments, especially those of defense lawyers, strike Oregon prosecutor Joshua Marquis, a vice president of the National District Attorneys Association, as “way, way beyond the limits of what’s fair.” He adds, “There are rules governing this kind of thing in every state, but unless you enforce them, this is what you get.” Defense attorney Dominic Gentile of Las Vegas responds that lawyers have an “absolute duty” to defend their clients, inside the courtroom and beyond. State and federal courts have rules that restrict lawyers in criminal and civil cases from making out-of-court statements that are likely to prejudice the outcome of a court proceeding.