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CASES AND PRESS

Courting the Media

Public Relations for the Accused and the Accuser - Margaret A Mackenzie

Lawyers representing celebrities face unique challenges from both the accused and their team of advisors. According to Eric Franz, a New York City lawyer who experienced an onslaught of media attention when he represented both a celebrity accused and the accuser of a celebrity, “Any lawyer who represents a celebrity must also deal with the variety of people trying to influence decisions about media coverage. It is the lawyer’s job to run the case successfully, to defend the client on all fronts including the media when strategically appropriate.” In the summer of 2005, Franz defended actor Christian Slater from criminal charges and also represented the hotel clerk who was hit by a telephone thrown by actor Russell Crowe. I followed both cases closely, because I knew Franz through a mutual friend.
            Russell Crowe threw a telephone at hotel clerk Nestor Estrada on June 6, 2005. After weeklong media speculation about who Estrada was going to hire to sue Mr. Crowe, The New York Daily News reported that Eric Franz was the chosen lawyer. This was a shot heard round the world. The south African Press Association (SAPA) was only one of dozens of news wire services that reported a lawsuit against Russell Crowe would seek “unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.” The SAPA news story also included, “Estrada’s lawyer Eric Franz told the paper: ‘I’ll do my talking through the legal process.’” In actuality, Franz never filed a lawsuit. He strategically made periodic statements and apparently issued only one process release. He also put up an impenetrable shield around his client, Nestor Estrada.
            Eric Franz is relatively young. He is a 1993 honors graduate of Fordham Law School with the good sense of a seasoned and successful trial lawyer. He says that he views media attention as taking place on a “chessboard” with the plaintiff’s lawyer on one side and the defendant’s on the other. Between the Crowe matter and the Slater arrest, Franz demonstrated that he’s on his way to becoming a chess master. For many lawyers, that much attention paid to his client’s case might have gone to his head. Franz had some experience with media coverage, having represented a defendant in a Georgia federal racketeering trial involving professional athletes and a high-class strip club, but nothing prepared him for the media coverage of Russell Crowe’s temper tantrum and telephone attack.
            Like many criminal defense lawyers, Franz has specialized both in representing those accused of committing a crime (criminal defense) and those who sue someone for crimes committed against them (civil litigation). The skills required for success in these legal processes and the media relations skills needed when the case becomes high-profile are very similar.

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