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Attorney May Get Charged With Arson

LAWYER, LAWYER, YOUR PANTS ARE ON FIRE

In what must have been a bizarre spectacle in a Florida court, a defense attorney, while delivering his closing argument in an arson case, started fiddling with his back pocket and had to run out of the courtroom when smoke started billowing out of the pocket. Yes, the attorney defending an arson case found himself on fire. Incredibly, the attorney was in the middle of arguing in his closing statements that the defendant didn’t commit arson; rather, his car spontaneously caught on fire. And then right before the jurors’ eyes, the attorney’s pocket seemed to spontaneously catch on fire. The attorney returned to court wearing his now singed pants.

Sounds awfully suspicious to me but the attorney maintains that it was not a gimmick. Apparently, the attorney did have an e-cigarette in his back pocket and he blamed a faulty battery in the e-cigarette for the mishap. Despite the attorney’s denial that the pocket fire was planned, police and prosecutors are investigating the incident. Court officers seized the frayed e-cigarette batteries as evidence. There have been reports that e-cigarettes caught on fire and several of these incidents have even been recorded on video. So, maybe this was just an uncanny coincidence.

Could the attorney himself be charged with arson if the prosecution determines that it wasn’t just a coincidence? I can’t say how that might play out in Florida, but if the incident happened in California, probably not. Arson requires that the fire be set to a building, land, or other property. Now if the fire in the attorney’s back pocket spread beyond his pocket, he could indeed be charged with arson.

Under the circumstances here, he would likely be charged with contempt of court. In California, a contempt of court charge can result whenever someone disrupts the court process. There are several situations that are considered contempt of court, but here it would be for “disorderly, contemptuous, or insolent behavior” committed during a court proceeding that would tend to “interrupt [the] proceedings or to impair the respect due to [the court’s] authority.” (Penal Code 166(a)(1).) Not only would this land the attorney in hot water with the Bar and could even end in his disbarment, but a conviction for contempt of court could result in a jail term of up to six months and a fine of up to $1,000. I don’t know how it would be treated in Florida, but I would guess the law is similar to the California law.

As of this writing, the Florida attorney had not been charged with any crime and it is quite possible that his claim is true. But here’s the burning question: Was his client convicted? Yes, he was.

Criminal defense attorney William Weinberg is available to consult with you regarding any criminal matter. You can reach him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or email him at bill@williamweinberg.com.

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