Last Saturday afternoon Jaime Jaramillo, batting coach for the Irving Irrelevants, was pitching during batting practice when the Mountain Ranch practice facility collapsed on him. Several Irrelevant players and some twenty members of the media who were covering the practice were inside the facility with Jaime when it collapsed.
Initial media reports implicated Irrelevant management for purchasing and using the practice facility, Cowboy Contractor who erected the facility, Eager Engineering Company, Dilatory Design Company and the various companies that manufactured components used for construction of the Mountain Ranch practice facility. Investigative reporters suggested that the Eager Engineering Company was unlicensed and that Cowboy Construction Company previously erected several similar, defective facilities. However, when asked if they knew of these problems, Irrelevant’s management and its attorneys refused to comment.
The Irving Irrelevants’ insurance defense attorneys insisted that all media questions be answered, “No comment.” Yet, over the next few days thoughtful, concerned responses were issued by the Cowboy Contractor, Eager Engineers and the various component manufacturers – everybody but Irrelevants’ management. Hungry for more details, local media published each and every comment, noting that Irrelevant management remained unavailable for comment.
Who loses the trial in the Court of Public Opinion? When the case is tried by a jury of local citizens who were saturated with watercooler talk of the practice facility collapse, who starts from behind?
Litigation Practice Points: Without a doubt, attorneys for the Irving Irrelevants should be mindful of protecting the attorney-client privilege and ethics rules that restrict public comment by attorneys. Yet, issuing nothing but “no-comments” statements is often perceived by the public as arrogant. It sends a message of disinterest, a message of confusion and lack of leadership. Obviously, this neighborhood perception will not help the Irrelevants in the marketplace where they will continue to sell their product (game tickets and advertising) nor in the Court of Public Opinion that is chock full of potential jury members when the case actually comes to trial.
Employees in the company are waiting and watching to see what management will say – how it will react to the crisis. Even if management and its attorneys believe they are skirting the risk of being damaged publicly, rest assured a “no comment” approach will affect the attitude and morale of company employees. The result will almost certainly have at least a short-term yet undeniably profound effect on company productivity and, quite likely, an impact on the future success of the company.
How does one balance the importance of protecting your legal interests versus protecting your public image? Does a thoughtful, effective response to this kind of crisis come about easily? Almost certainly not! Check back next month as we will address some of the methods and options available to help in a time of crisis.