Did Defense Admit Defendants Are Guilty?

During Friday’s hearing on lifting the pretrial restrictions on the defendants in the Robert Wone murder case, the prosecution argued for freezing the defendants assets to alleviate flight risk, defendant Victor Zaborsky’s lawyer responded with a strange answer.  “I don’t mean to be mercenary here, but there are attorney’s fees and expert fees to be paid to fight this case.”

Now everyone charged with a crime in America has the right to a defense, but doesn’t the use of the word “mercenary” by the defense as it relates to their work for the defendants undermine their credibility?  Since mercenary means a solider for hire, it means that the soldier is not fighting for the cause, but rather just for the money.  And if they only fight for the money, then they haven’t taken any position on the cause they are fighting for.  They could be for, or they could against it, the point is the cause is not why they are fighting, just the money.
Now, defense attorneys take cases all the time for the money, but even so, implicit in taking the case is that they believe in the defense they are arguing for.  At the minimum that needs to be the public position for a defense attorney, especially going into the trial phase.  In the case of Robert Wone, the defense is arguing that the defendants are innocent of murdering the lawyer, and innocent of the pending obstruction of justice charge.
Has the defense’s belief in their client’s innocence been put into jeopardy when they said this?

6 comments for “Did Defense Admit Defendants Are Guilty?

  1. dctechguy
    12/22/2008 at 3:08 PM

    I feel that the defense attorney was simply attempting to reinforce to the judge that if the defendants assets are frozen, it places the attorneys in the difficult position of representation without compensation. Since the defense attorneys are not public defenders, their livelihood is predicated on the defendants’ ability to pay for services rendered.

    The definition and connotation of mercenary is often negative (one who serves merely for wages, e.g., military personnel hired to serve as soldiers who are often not citizens of the non-warring countries). Hence the defense attorney is qualifying its use by saying “not wanting to appear mercenary” by saying that he is representing the defendant and was simply softening his communication to the judge that if the assets are frozen, he will not be paid, IMHO.

  2. David
    12/22/2008 at 8:54 PM

    dctechguy — all you said is true, but to use the word “mercenary” in relation to their work for the defendants, especially before the judge, undercuts their credibility.

    Yes, Zaborsky’s lawyer prefaced with “not wanting to appear mercenary,” to make the plea more palitible to the judge, but it is no different than when a letter starts out “As you know,” then states what the reader doesn’t know so as not to offend the reader. Same thing applies here. He is in essence saying, “I don’t mean be a mercenary here, but I am a mercenary,” thus hoping the judge would be less offended by his argument.

  3. BlArthurHu
    12/29/2008 at 5:27 PM

    Hi, I just started digging into this case from an Asian Week article, I write a column there. Here’s a bunch of my notes:


    The most complete and believable explanations of what might have happened, including pointing out the relevance of Wone being Asian are on the datalounge gossip boards. The only thing that is a mystery about this case is why nobody is willing to point a finger at who obviously must have done it.

    The stuff is a bit touchy to cover on my own blog, but I might be open to contributing on this one.

  4. David
    12/29/2008 at 10:17 PM


    Great stuff from Data Lounge. I had read it before but found it difficult to post because of the content is secured.

    It sounds like you have a lot of knowledge about the case, and the Asian angle needs to be fully explored.

    Would like to talk with you more about the case and your interest in the blog.


  5. Michael, Esq.
    04/08/2009 at 11:04 AM

    Not sure if anyone will review recent comments on such an old post, but here goes…

    Sorry, David, I don’t buy your argument. How does defense counsel’s use of the phrase “not wanting to appear mercenary” even approach something that could be construed to mean “my client is guilty?” Of course he’s a mercenary! Most criminal defense attorneys stand up in court and advocate on behalf of accused murders, rapists, embezzlers, and other lowlifes whom the attorney may personally find distasteful. Most judges themselves used to be mercenaries. Do you really think the judge was that offended? I don’t think so.

    By this logic, any attorney who charges a fee is implicitly suggesting that their client’s case (or defense) has no merit, because they haven’t made it their personal cause and aren’t handling the representation free of charge.

    On a separate note, though, I have to congratulate you on your blog. The four of you have been doing some fantastic work.

    • David
      04/08/2009 at 4:24 PM

      Thanks for a tip of the hat on our blog. We appreciate it.

      My point was more about a freudian slip of the defense counsel’s tongue. Even if most criminal defense attorneies find their clients distasteful, to say what they are thinking in front of the judge, seems to me, to undercut their arguement that their clients are not quilty.

      David, editor

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