Duke Rape Case Update: How Important Is the Court of Public Opinion?
“It was scary,” Evans said. “I woke up from a nap to 10 police officers in my living room with a search warrant.” Said defendant David Evans on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
According to AP, the three members of Duke University’s lacrosse team charged with rape say they had expected DNA testing would clear them of a crime they insist they did not commit. “We were told it would help to clear everything up,” said Collin Finnerty, 20, who was interviewed on CBS’ “60 Minutes” along with Reade Seligmann, 20, and David Evans, 23. “So we were happy to go.”
“It was scary,” Evans said. “I woke up from a nap to 10 police officers in my living room with a search warrant. I went through every part of it – told’em where they could find things and that we’d fully cooperate and answer any questions they had.” Defense attorneys, who have insisted their clients are innocent, declined requests in recent weeks from The Associated Press for interviews with the indicted players.
Nifong initially complained publicly about a lack of cooperation from the team, and said the DNA test would reveal who committed rape and who was innocent. When the tests failed to find a definitive match, he said there is no DNA evidence in most sexual assault cases and vowed to press ahead with the case. Indictments against the three players soon followed.
Kim Roberts, who was also hired to perform at the party, was also interviewed by CBS’ “60 Minutes.” She said she was separated from the accuser twice during the evening, both times for five to 10 minutes. But Roberts said the accuser never gave her any reason to believe she had been attacked.
A few comments from the Reputation Doctor regarding the latest in the Duke rape case:
In high-profile legal cases today, the court of public opinion is as important, and sometimes more important, then the court of law.
I have said this over and over not only privately to clients, but as a commentator on Court TV, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, BBC and The New York Times: the court of public opinion not only influences the courtroom, but also influences the nation and the world. And what is a subset of the nation and the world? A jury. And how important is the court of public opinion regarding building trust and credibility? Everything! Not only for a legal case overall, but for the reputations of both the prosecution, the victim, the individual defendants and their attorneys. They all want a positive reputation after this case.
The truth always bubbles to the top.
D.A. Nifong appears to have made some short term decisions that are coming back to bite both him and the alleged victim in the long term in this case. Did he do it for political reasons? Well, let’s put it this way: when you have to choose between your reputation (or your job) and another’s, which would you choose every time? We choose ourselves. Remember, a D.A.’s position is an elected position and election day is the first week of November. We humans are a selfish bunch by nature. Sad, but true.
This important case doesn’t go to trail until spring of 2007 and there will be many twist and turns in the court of public opinion affecting the legal outcome of the entire case for months to come.
Any attorney who tries to handle the court of public opinion (which, of course, includes local, national and global media) on their own in a case like this is committing professional and reputational suicide for themselves and equally so for their clients. Why? There is a reason why top professionals in crisis PR and reputation management today earn hourly rates equal to and sometimes larger than the top attorneys in the world. With all due respect, we are worth every penny in the short run and the long run.
Remember, do the right thing when your reputation is in crisis and seek the counsel of an experienced reputation management expert. It will be a major challenge, but ultimately the rewards of repairing your reputation will be great. Why? Because Your Reputation Is Everything!™