Lawyer’s Pants Catch Fire During Closing Argument
Mar 09, 2017 12:37 am | Kevin
A Miami defense lawyer’s pants burst into flames Wednesday afternoon as he began his closing arguments in front of a jury—in an arson case.
Stephen Gutierrez, who was arguing that his client’s car spontaneously combusted and was not intentionally set on fire, had been fiddling in his pocket as he was about to address jurors when smoke began billowing out [of] his right pocket, witnesses told the Miami Herald.
He then rushed out of the courtroom. When he returned a few minutes later—extinguished and “unharmed, with a singed pocket”—he told the judge that the problem was a bad battery in an e-cigarette. If he explained why he had an e-cigarette in his pants during closing argument, or why he had been “fiddling” with (I assume) that e-cigarette at the time, the Herald didn’t report it.
It does say he “insisted it wasn’t a staged defense demonstration gone wrong,” suggesting, of course, that the judge wondered whether the sudden outbreak of a fire during closing argument in an arson case where the defense was based on spontaneous combustion had been entirely coincidental.
We don’t care, because it’s remarkable either way: either (1) it was an astounding coincidence in which a lawyer’s pants actually caught on fire during an argument, or (2) a lawyer planned to set something on fire in the courtroom, on purpose, as a demonstration in support of a spontaneous-combustion theory. I’m not sure I even want to know the truth.
But the truth will probably come out, because police are looking into the matter and seized “several frayed e-cigarette batteries” as evidence. That doesn’t sound good for Mr. Gutierrez, who might face a contempt-of-court charge if this turns out to be shenanigans. Such a charge seems unlikely to me unless he floated the idea of a demonstration beforehand and was told not to try it, which is possible. Personally, I’d say he’s suffered enough anyway. The incident didn’t do his client any good—deliberations went forward and the jury convicted him of second-degree arson. So his client may not be happy with him, plus now he needs a new pair of pants, and he’s in the news. Seems like enough to me.
In 2009, a Kansas lawyer pulled the pin on a hand grenade during his closing argument, apparently for a somewhat similar purpose. It was a dud (and so was the grenade). That was also a bad idea, but at least it didn’t involve any chance that the lawyer’s pants might actually catch on fire during an argument, which is sufficiently remarkable that I felt the need to italicize it again.
You need to be careful with courtroom demonstrations anyway, because they can easily backfire. Demonstrations that involve (a) your pants or (b) fire seem like especially bad ideas, even separately.