Attorney Jack Bacevice joined the Cleveland firm Mansour Gavin after years as an Assistant Director of Law for the city of Cleveland. He’s handled numerous high-profile cases and is very familiar with practicing in the court of law while the court of public opinion intently watches. We’ll periodically feature a Q&A with Jack and Hennes Communications Managing Partner Thom Fladung on the art and craft of litigating in the harsh glare of the public spotlight.
Q. What special challenges come with representing public officials?
A. Added scrutiny, which is expected. Public officials are not only paid by our tax dollars, but also are in control of the public’s resources. For better or worse, public officials are an easy target for the media. Additionally, while elected officials are used to the spotlight, the majority of public employees are civil servants who are neither used to nor comfortable with the added scrutiny. As a result, you often become your client’s public shield. I have found it helpful to be upfront with your client about the inevitable media attention and, if at all possible, to make sure your client learns of any new article, segment, or post from you first. That allows you to put things in perspective immediately. Long term, this client communication helps build and strengthen your client’s trust in you, which is invaluable to providing the best representation possible.
Q. Do you do anything to prepare your client if you know the trial is going to attract media and public attention or you know your opposing counsel will try the case in the media or on social media?
A. That is something I make the client aware of in our initial meeting. I always tell them two important things 1) Do not pay attention to it. If there is relevant information or a development in the case you will hear it from me, not in opposing counsel’s interview with the local news. 2) Do not comment or respond to it in any public outlet. We will make our case in court and only in court.
Q. OK, hang on. At Hennes, we tell clients that “no comment” is a bad option. It automatically makes a person look guilty. Because if you’re innocent and don’t have something to hide, why wouldn’t you comment? We get that a defendant in the middle of a trial can’t comment. But what about before the trial starts? What if you’re representing someone in a civil case that may or may not go to trial?
A. While I do not want my client commenting, either the litigator or the municipality’s press office should not remain silent. I think it is a good policy to refuse comment on pending litigation, but that does not mean total silence. Give an answer that signals your respect for the court and the judicial process. As an example, answer, “While we appreciate what Plaintiff’s counsel has said, we do not comment on pending litigation. We will make our case in court and we invite you to attend any and all proceedings on the record and review any and all documents we file.”
The reality is you are going to lay out, in great detail, your client’s position. But you are going to do so in the appropriate forum. I believe this is both professional and shows a great deal of respect toward the court.
To reach Jack Bacevice and Mansour Gavin, call 216-523-1500 or email [email protected]. Reach Thom Fladung at 216-321-7774 or [email protected]. Got a question you’d like them to take on? Email it to [email protected]