In Defense of Don West.

Kids. If you have them, you’ve been embarrassed by them; if you’ve raised them, they’ve disappointed you.1 Though all of us lucky enough to call ourselves parents have been embarrassed and disappointed by actions of our children, few amongst us have the misfortune of being so publicly embarrassed and disappointed as Don West2 must have been on Fri. June 28, 2013, on the 5th day of Florida vs. Zimmerman3.

While Mr. West should have been breathing a slight sigh of relief after three straight prosecution witnesses4 went far better for the defense than could have been expected, and preparing sans familial distraction for week two of trial, he was instead briefly sidelined by the antics of his well-meaning but misguided 23-year-old daughter, Molly West.

Some time during the first week of FLvsGZ, Ms. West took to Instagram to share with a few million of her closest friends a photo of herself, her sister Rachel, and their father eating soft-serve ice cream after court. Had she stopped there, we would not be discussing her (poor) judgment.

Oh my.

Unfortunately for Mr. West, his daughter did not stop at merely uploading the selfie her father’s outstretched arm reveals that he took. Instead of leaving the photo uncaptioned, or better yet leaving it offline entirely, Ms. West captioned the family photo “We beat stupidity celebration cones.” As if that insensitive moniker weren’t enough, she added hashtags #Zimmerman #Defense and #DadKilledIt5 the former an easy way for anyone to find all photos tagged about FLvsGZ; the latter a cringe-worthy gaffe.

Just a day ago the world was criticizing the public behavior, questioning the judgment6, and speculating as to the proper rearing7 of prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel [Rachel Jeantel: When Keeping It Real, Goes Wrong]. Enter Molly West: a young woman not from a marginalized community, not lacking in education, who despite all the home-training that presumably wealth and familial success would afford, demonstrated that poor judgment crosses all color and class lines.

Shame on Molly West. Intentionally or not, her post came across to many observers as callous, cruel, and utterly uncalled for. Ms. West should know better. She embarrassed herself, her family, and did a disservice to George Zimmerman.8 I was repulsed by Molly West’s poor judgment in choice of captions/hashtags, and said so immediately:

Criticism was swift and sweeping: The Root posted a misleading headline “Don West’s Faux Pas“, alternately “Don West: Daughter’s Instagram Controversy“- the latter a fair description, the former an unfair characterization. Molly West is not Don West; family or not, she is neither Mr. West’s agent nor spokesperson. It’s unconscionable that so many ostensibly thoughtful people are inexplicably incapable of separating the two.

While Ms. West’s bad judgment of course reflected poorly on her father, she should not have been deemed his representative. The Grio went beyond misleading with its inflammatory headline: “George Zimmerman’s Attorney Don West Took The Most Offensive Selfie Of All Time.” Huh? There is nothing offensive about the “selfie” itself. What is offensive is people’s inability to distinguish actions of adult children from those of their parents.

The Wests went to Chick-Fil-A, not to enjoy some leisurely celebratory multi-course meal. Whether taken during trial or not, the photo is not “offensive.” The man is not poppin’ bottles or jumpin’ on couches; he’s eating ice cream, in Florida during June FFS. Nothing in the photo itself can reasonably be construed as Mr. West “celebrating.” The only indication of “celebration” is his dim-witted daughter’s unfortunate caption. It would be utter nonsense to take an IG caption at face-value as if it were encouraged or authorized by Mr. West, as if he were even aware.

Again and again I heard the question posed: What lawyer celebrates publicly during an ongoing trial? Um, none. Which is why it’s asinine for people to think Mr. West would do so. Ask a better question: What 20-something posts something stupid on social media unbeknownst to her unwitting family or friends? Lots. See, e.g. Molly West.

Most middle-aged people don’t assume every family pic they take is going to be shared with the world… …nor do they think they have to actually TELL their kids ‘don’t post during trial.’” –Sai Grundy

So give Mr. West a break; give the man the benefit of the doubt. Does anyone with a grip on reality actually believe Mr. West was out “celebrating” in the opening days of the biggest trial of his career? Is anyone who thinks Mr. West ok’d that post even remotely familiar at all with parental dynamics of young adults vs the relative lack of savvy social media skills of the 50+ set? One wonders…

Trial is Hell. Even when your family doesn’t humiliate and disappoint you, even when your every move is not scrutinized by rabid round-the-clock media, even in the most mundane non-sensationalized settings, jury trial is harrowing on lawyers. It’s like playoffs for athletes: sleep and diet are a wreck. Nothing else matters: you barely see your family… and when you do, you don’t expect them to act recklessly. The best trial attorneys prepare for every contingency: technical difficulties, surprise witnesses, you plan and plan… but you don’t expect to have to plan for this.

Defense attorneys are already maligned as “bad guys.”9 Ms. West just made her father’s already difficult job harder; her antics could have compromised her father’s ability to do his duty to his client. Mr. West should be embarrassed too, even apologetic. But he should not be held responsible for the actions of a 23-year-old woman, even one that he raised. Still, in an abundance of deference to discretion that his daughter did not exercise, Mr. West should:

  1. Have his daughter apologize via brief written apology to the court and Mr. Zimmerman.
  2. Ensure his daughters do not return to court for the duration of the trial.
  3. Have his daughter(s) delete her/their social media accounts.10

In the wake of the avoidable brouhaha, Mr. West issued a statement that said simply, perfectly:

Sometimes we’re deeply disappointed by the things our children do. But we love them anyway, and we move on.” – Don West.

And he’s right. He should be disappointed. He should love his daughter anyway, and he- and we- should all move on. I appreciate Ms. West’s fierce loyalty and celebratory support, but next time she wants to encourage her beleaguered father she should post an inspirational photo on the family frig, not humiliate her father by exposing her poor judgment to the entire world via social media.

________

  1. …If you’re a parent and you disagree: then either you’re in denial, or just wait ’til Junior gets out of diapers. []
  2. …note that this piece is entitled “In Defense of Don West,” not “In Defense of Molly West.” []
  3. State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman: SA No. 1712F04573 18th Judicial Circuit In and For Seminole County, Florida. Hereafter: “FLvsGZ“ []
  4. …Jonathan Good, Jonathan Manalo, and an incredibly cooperative police officer whose name escapes me at the moment. []
  5. …In a private room of defense attorneys would I say one of my colleagues “killed it” after an exceptionally strong day in trial? Yes. But to post that pic + caption? NEVER. []
  6. …or lack thereof. []
  7. …again, or lack thereof. []
  8. …Hate him, support him, or- like me- have no emotional feeling about him at all, other than to hope he gets his constitutionally mandated fair trial… []
  9. …until you or you someone you love needs one, which you will. []
  10. …Some time on Fri. 6/28/13 Molly West’s Twitter account changed from public to private; by Sat. 6/29/13 Molly’s Twitter and Instagram accounts both appear to have been deleted entirely. []

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