The lady who accused the flawed individual and the lawyer who threw her below the bus
One little story made big news last week because it symbolized a bigger problem in the United States – racism.
Miya Ponsetto, a 22-year-old woman who visits New York City and lives at the Arlo Soho Hotel, accused a black teenager who also lives at the hotel of stealing her iPhone. Not only did she blame him, but she grabbed him in the lobby, searched his pockets, and yelled, “No, I’m not going to let him go with my phone.” He insisted that the security forces arrest him.
The teen’s father happened to be an established jazz trumpeter, Keyon Harrold, who didn’t take the accusation lightly. He saw it as an attack on his son just because of his race. He videotaped the encounter and alerted the media.
The young woman flew back to Southern California, but with the zeal of media attention, Manhattan prosecutors decided to make an example of Ponsetto and sent detectives to California to arrest her. It was delivered yesterday [Sunday] and charged with the number of offenses of attempted robbery and minor crimes including attempted assault, attempted grand theft, and an act harmful to a child. Harrold’s son was only 14 years old.
The legal analysis justifying the top attempted robbery charge is that by attempting to seize the teen’s phone, she attempted to rob something that was not hers and used force (the device) in the attempt .
It seems to me that without the media brouhaha this case would never have been prosecuted. Prosecutors will have a hard time proving that the young woman intended to take something she knew was not hers. But Manhattan Attorney Cyrus Vance doesn’t take what his office believes are racist stereotypes lightly. Interesting to me as so many of my clients, young blacks who happen to be in cars or just hang out on the street, are routinely stopped, harassed and searched by the police for very few reasons other than their skin color.
Now let’s talk about Ponsetto’s California attorney. After the media firestorm sparked by Ponsetto, she decided to set the record right by giving an “exclusive” interview to Gayle King of CBS This Morning. She hired a lawyer, Sharen H. Ghatan, to accompany her on the air. Obviously, Ghatan did not prepare her clients well for the following questions.
During the interview, Ponsetto was neither contrite nor retired. “I’m a 22 year old girl,” she told Gayle King. “I don’t know – racism is – how does a girl accuse a man of a phone as a crime?”
When Gayle King continued to squeeze, troubled by Ponsetto’s demeanor, Ponsetto held up a hand. “All right, Gayle. Enough, ”ended the interview.
A lawyer’s job, even if his client is acting like an idiot, is to stand by that person’s side, except in the case of fraud or perjury (unless you are Rudy Giuliani).
Instead, Ghatan decided to throw her under the bus after her client’s bad behavior and told journalists, “I don’t think she should have dealt with it the way she did,” she said. “She was prepared and guided. She apologized, but not the way she should have done. She said so many other things that it almost blurred her message. It was so disrespectful. “Who needs a lawyer with such a lawyer?
A lawyer’s first job is to protect his client, not his own reputation. When Ghatan told the press, “She left the script. She decided to ignore my advice and just go alone. “She made it worse for Ponsetto in order to improve it for herself.
This instinct may be understandable, but it is not a criminal defense attorney’s job to bring her client’s mistakes to the media. It is their job to properly prepare the client or to cancel the entire interview. That’s not to say customers won’t deviate from the script or tell the media things that you wish they didn’t have. But you have to grin and take it.
Perhaps at some point, long after the case is over, you can write about it in your memoir. But only then.
Toni Messina has tried over 100 cases and has been practicing criminal law and immigration since 1990. You can follow her on Twitter: @tonitamess.