News Flash: It is not easy to give a proper media interview while you are actively being charged with a crime. That is why most experienced defense lawyers say “NO” when a client proposes giving a media interview to “get their side of the story out.” If that does not work, say “NO” again and then say “NO WAY.”
Add to that when the client is 22 years old with no relevant experience or background and then shows up to the interview in a black leather jacket, tube top and a hat that says “Daddy” you pull a fire alarm at the TV station to make sure the interview does not go forward.
Such was the case when the latest Cellphone Karen, Miya Ponsetto, appeared for her first big media interview with Gayle King of CBS’ This Morning. Ms. Ponsetto is the person who falsely accused a young Black man of stealing her iPhone. Why? Well it seems she was recently a guest at a Soho hotel and lost her cellphone, so obviously the 14 year old Black male in the lobby must be the thief. This young man, whose father is a Grammy-award winning artist, had his father right there in the lobby with him and who was telling her that this was his son’s phone. As the father and son tried to walk out of the hotel, Ms. Ponsetto grabbed the young man and wrestled him to the ground. The father caught the incident on his cellphone and the video has gone viral. A short while later, an Uber driver pulled up to the hotel with Ms. Ponsetto’s phone which she had left in his car.
When Ms. Ponsetto was arrested outside her California home via a fugitive warrant, she resisted arrest, refusing to get out of her car and then kicking at police officers as they subdued her. That is par for the course for Ms. Ponsetto who also resisted arrest in the same fashion back in October when she was arrested for DUI and disorderly conduct. A video of that fiasco can be found here: https://www.tmz.com/2021/01/10/miya-ponsetto-second-dui-arrest-wild-video-ventura/ That was Ms. Ponsetto’s second DUI arrest, as she was also arrested on DUI in May 2020. And she has a pending disorderly conduct case for making a scene outside a Beverly Hills hotel. So with this track record, do you think its a good idea to go on national television?
The show and Ms. King generally toss softballs and don’t poke too hard, but still, speaking about an incident caught on video, to an audience of millions of viewers is just a bad choice. But I don’t blame Ms. Ponsello who is too young and immature to know better. She also seems to possibly have mental health issues. I do fully blame her lawyer Sharen Ghatan, however, who not only sat by her side as the interview derailed into madness but then made it worse by speaking negatively about her client afterward.
It all starts with what Ms. Ponsetto chose to wear. In an interview with the Daily Beast, Ms. Ghatan stated “We asked her to wear professional attire. I specifically asked her to remove [the hat] before the interview.” But Ghatan described 22-year-old Ponsetto as “defiant,” “insistent,” and a “very challenging client.” Hello? Then tell her the hat goes or I go and cancel the interview if she insists.
Ms. Ponsetto started off the interview ok, but then veered off whatever script Ms. Ghatan had prepared for her, saying she was a “super sweet” person who would never do anything violent (Gayle quickly pulled up the video), then saying things like “OK. I apologize. Can we move on?” and “I’m a 22 year old girl. I don’t -racism is – how is one girl accusing a guy about a phone, a crime?” She then offered insincere apologies, only acknowledging “if I insulted him or hurt his feelings.” She danced around questions and leaned heavily on excuses in an attempt to spin the story as a victim. When the questioning continued, she then raised her hand to the screen and said “Alright Gayle, enough!” before storming off.
Ms. Ghatan shamefully doubled down on her mistake in letting Ms. Ponsetto talk to the national media by saying this to the NY Times herself afterward:
“Her personal attorney, Sharen H. Ghatan, said on Friday that she had become concerned for Ms. Ponsetto, who had behaved erratically in the hours before her arrest. “My concern now is with her mental health and her well being,” Ms. Ghatan said. “She is behaving in a fashion that is completely of her own volition.” Of the interview, which was met with widespread derision online, Ms. Ghatan said, “I was embarrassed for her.” Ms. Ghatan said she had repeatedly tried to interrupt her to no avail. “She went off script,” she said. “She decided to disregard my advice and just go on her own.” “I don’t think she should have handled it the way she did,” Ms. Ghatan added. “She was prepared and guided. She apologized, but not in the way she should have. But she said so many other things that it almost blurred her message. It was so disrespectful.”
This quote has so many nonsensical and troubling statements for a lawyer to make: (1)”She is behaving in a fashion that is of her own volition.” What does that even mean? What behavior isn’t of our own volition except that which is caused by mental disease or drugs; (2)”My concern now is with her mental health and well being” Why wasn’t that your concern BEFORE the interview. Did you not do any research into your client’s background?; (3)”I don’t think she should have handled it the way she did.” Really? I don’t think YOU handled it properly by putting her on TV in the first place. Why are you talking negatively about your client? (4)”It was so disrespectful.” Again, why are you talking negatively about your client? Are you worried about your reputation more than her case? (5)”I was embarrassed for her” See #4 and #3 (6) “She decided to disregard my advice and just go on her own. . . She was prepared and guided.” Obviously not enough.
Let me expound on that last point a little bit. When a lawyer gets a high profile case, its hard not to be excited about being in the national media. But your duty is to your client, not your ego. If your client insists on doing the interview, then the prep has to be intense. I mean hours and hours, dozens and dozens of hours. You have to act as the cross-examining journalist and push the client’s buttons repeatedly. There have been many times where my prep sessions have been the reason why the client finally understood the danger and non-necessity of appearing on camera and canceled the interview. I see no evidence that Ms. Ponsetto would have handled a few a hard prep session well enough for her to not see what would happen.
That this did not happen with Ms. Ghatan is evident. That she did not know how to handle something like this is also evident. How? (1) She failed to intercede quickly and loudly enough (2) How did she let her client appear in a “Daddy” hat and dressed in that fashion? (3) What benefit was there to the interview? Stay quiet, issue a written properly crafted statement if necessary and give no further comment. Your client has three open criminal cases from BEFORE the assault on the teen. She’s facing felony charges in NY now due to the hotel incident. No good can come from talking to the media. Here is an example of a media statement I would have released if my client insisted:
“My client is prepared to explain her actions and what was going through her mind during the incident but will only do so in court and will be making no additional statements outside of court. Ms. Pontello, who is 22 years old and of Puerto Rican and Vietnamese descent insists that race played no role that day. She and her family ask that the media respect her privacy.”
That’s it, that’s all you need. Its NY, people, the story will go way once she pleads guilty to some reduced crime, gets probation or community service. Ms. Ghatan simply did not protect her client that day. That is Job #1 for any lawyer, but especially criminal defense lawyers. One line from her bio on her website reads:
She is known for her using her sharp wit, intelligence and comedic genius to get her clients what they want: victory. Ms. Ghatan and her dedicated legal dream team will give you the advantage you have been seeking.
Really? Sharp wit was certainly not on display. Comedic genius? Maybe, was it all supposed to be a joke? Incidentally if you are interested in seeing her comedy material, she did a 10 minute monologue at a private school fundraiser you can view on YouTube. SPOILER: Its not funny. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iI0_3oKbm9U
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