Court TV Host: We're going to be talking to criminal defense attorney Michael Griffith about the current Court TV taped trial, Fla. v. Acosta: After-school Fight Turns Deadly and we'll be asking Griffith about his high profile case, his defense of Ted Maher, the American nurse currently facing charges in Monaco for the death of billionaire Edmond Safra
Court TV Host: Michael Griffith is here! Welcome!
Michael Griffith: Hi folks I'm back again and ready for your questions. Let 'em fly!
Question from Susie-CTV: Hello, Mr. Griffith. At what age do you think an adult sentence is appropriate for a child/teen?
Michael Griffith: That's a great question. And probably unanswerable because the facts of each case are different and we have to analyze the person involved, their upbringing, their history, the type of crime which they committed, under what circumstances and what their intent and motive was. If you can put everything I've said into a puzzle and come up with the answer to your question, please tell me, because as I reiterate, every case is different.
Question from dreamcatcher: Is there a way they could have just charged him with wrongful death?
Michael Griffith: No, wrongful death is a civil cause of action whereby you would sue for money, damages. Manslaughter and murder are the criminal equivalents.
Question from rjboston: I know this trial ends with a hung jury. Is that the outcome you would have predicted and do you think it should be retried??
Michael Griffith: Good question! It seems to me that the jury could have had enough evidence to convict him of manslaughter. The Court TV poll (78%-22%) seems to corroborate this. I would suggest as I did on air that the defense and the prosecution engage in some tough plea bargaining to eliminate the need of a second trial. With numbers like 78-22 why take a chance on spending many years in jail?
Question from JoseyWales: Mr. Maher's wife and family are publicly stating that Maher's original comments about two assassins are true, but Maher appears to state something different. What is the defense's view of what happened that night?
Michael Griffith: Excellent question. The defense is confirming our client's allegations that he himself was responsible for his injuries. Our client has consistently told the examining judge this version of the events. Even if the other scenario was true, it would be futile if not stupid to attempt to tell another story at this time. We are defending Ted based upon his wishes and his statements.
Question from dukeofbristol: Will Ted Maher take the stand in his own defense? If he doesn't, can the jury hold it against him?
Michael Griffith: He will absolutely take the stand. And I see no reason why the jury would hold that against him if he did not take the stand, although under the French system there is no presumption of innocence like we have here in the states.
Court TV Host: Back to Acosta for a moment...
Question from brently: What about Acosta's friends that were at the fight, why aren't they also being charged?
Michael Griffith: Probably because after hearing the witnesses in the grand jury room, the grand jury for one reason or another declined to indict any of the others.
Question from rjboston: Isn't the retrial already scheduled? Can they still plea bargain?
Michael Griffith: Absolutely. They can plea bargain as we speak. And if they're smart, that's what both sides should do. I think the appropriate plea bargain would be a guilty plea to an assault charge of some type, some prison, some probation. The idea for the defense is to cut his top-end prison exposure.
Question from Susie-CTV: Does the person/people who started the fight that led to Brier's death bear any legal responsibility? What about the folks who owned the home where the party was held?
Michael Griffith: There is no responsibility other than those people or person actually involved in the fight that led to the death of Acosta.
Question from Delk: Do you think Florida likes to charge kids as adults in general regardless of the crime?
Question from Aviewer: Is there a trend to try minors as adults throughout the US, or mainly in Florida?
Michael Griffith: You know, there's something going on in Florida. This state, and Michigan, loves to charge young kids with adult crimes. I don't know. Maybe they grow them bigger and wiser in Florida. But I can't figure out why Florida has taken the lead in this area.
Question from smod: Do you think that we are destroying the lives of young people by trying them as adults... don't you thing there is room for childhood mistake and rehabilitation?
Michael Griffith: Yes I do. I think there are far too many indictments of young people as adults. If the state wants to change the law to make minors responsible at a younger age, then do it. But it's getting silly. That some kids who were teenagers get charged one way and the others as adults makes no sense to me as a defense lawyer.
Question from rjboston: This case reminds me of the case portrayed in the film "The Accused" where the crowd was prosecuted for cheering on the attackers. Shouldn't those others pay for not calling 911?
Michael Griffith: Believe it or not there is no statute that I know of (remember I'm a New York lawyer) which mandates a bystander to have the affirmative duty of calling the police when a crime is being committed. I mean, there are lots of people who just don't want to be witnesses and have to testify at criminal trials and would rather go their own way. They're certainly guilty of bad citizenship, but they don't deserve to be locked up.
Question from austin: Can his grandparents sue for wrongful death?
Michael Griffith: Yes! The grandparents, if they are the legal guardians of James Brier, would be in the proper position to sue legally on behalf of the estate since he has no children and is not employed. Believe it or not, the value of his life is diminished economically with regards to someone who supports a family, and earns lots of money.
Court TV Host: Let's go back to Monaco...
Question from JoseyWales: What is the best realistic outcome for Mr. Maher?
Michael Griffith: The best outcome for Ted would be his being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and since that carries a term of approximately six years with the three years already spent in jail and time off-for good behavior we could have Ted home by next year.
Question from JoseyWales: Is the arson charge a vindictive charge?
Michael Griffith: It's vindictive to the point that he did not intend to light fire to the premises. His intention was to light tissues in a wastepaper basket, hold it up to a smoke alarm and have the smoke alarm go off and alert the fire brigade, which it did. If not but for the incompetence of the police and fire services in that they ran around the premises for approximately two and a half hours before they entered Mr. Safra's quarters, Mr. Safra would in fact be alive today.
Question from cheryl: Will he be able to work as a nurse again?
Michael Griffith: Yes. He'll be able to work as a nurse again...do you have a job for him?
Question from Aviewer: Is Mr. Maher mentally ill? After all, the man is an adult, 43, a nurse, goes and stabs himself and sets a fire which kills his employer and nurse, in an attempt to appear as a hero to his employer?
Michael Griffith: To the best of my knowledge Ted has no mental defects. And I have no reason to believe there is any mental illness. Remember Ted is "the fireman who started the fire." And, that is, firemen who start fires do it to be heroes not to hurt people. Their intention is to save people. And now you understand Ted's actions.
Question from JoseyWales: How do you resolve dealing with Ted's family as they maintain his innocence and yet Ted is admitting making that story up, and do their comments hinder your defense?
Michael Griffith: Every family is entitled to their own beliefs. One day Ted will be home, and he can tell them whatever story he deems appropriate, but we lawyers are following the instructions of our client. And we believe that, at worst, he is guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and we hope to have him home as soon as possible.
Court TV Host: What are the major differences between Monaco's justice system and the U.S. justice system, and how are you dealing with those differences?
Michael Griffith: The major difference is the presumption of innocence, and, to a lesser extent, there is no in your face cross-examination like there is in the States. Questions must be asked through the judge. Also, although this would be a perfect situation for a change of venue in the States, Monaco is only one square mile wide and we don't seem to have that option here.
Question from JoseyWales: Have you tried to plea bargain in this case?
Michael Griffith: No, because they don't have plea-bargaining as we know it.
Question from Aviewer: Is Maher's family wealthy?
Michael Griffith: No. And we do need money for his defense. Wanna help?
Question from Aviewer: How is it that a New York lawyer got to represent Maher in Monoco?
Michael Griffith: I have an international reputation for representing Americans in foreign countries and have been engaged in such cases as the Midnight Express Case, the Okinawa Rape Case, and the Tortola Murder Case. I have had the experience to help coordinate the defense of Americans arrested in foreign countries and, as a member of the criminal law committee of the international bar association, I have had the opportunity to help organize the defense of Americans in approximately two dozen countries.
Court TV Host: Thanks for being our guest today...any closing thoughts?
Michael Griffith: It's been really great talking to you all. Sharing thoughts, finding out about each other. And I really look forward to chatting with you all again the next time I do a Court TV appearance. Take care and obey the law.
Court TV Host: As always, we enjoyed it also, and we hope you'll come back soon!