(Reuters) - The lurid 2013 murder trial of Jodi Arias, an Arizona waitress accused of brutally stabbing her ex-boyfriend to death in 2008, was a crossroads for former public defender Laurence “Kirk” Nurmi. Nurmi had just entered private practice when he took over as lead counsel for Arias in the case. By his own account, he was reviled for the defense strategy of portraying Arias’ victim as an abusive pedophile who was attacking Arias when she stabbed him. Nurmi has said he even received death threats from strangers following the widely covered trial. His own client eventually joined the ranks of Nurmi’s critics. After Arias was convicted, she gave interviews lacing into Nurmi for botching the case.
In 2015, after Arias had been sentenced to life in prison and Nurmi was no longer her lawyer, he was diagnosed with cancer. According to an email statement Nurmi sent to me, the cancer diagnosis prompted him think about reclaiming his reputation. “I feared that my death would permit Ms. Arias’ lies to taint my legacy,” Nurmi said. So without asking Arias’ permission, he wrote and self-published a memoir, “Trapped with Ms. Arias,” about defending the notorious case.
That book has already cost Nurmi his license to practice law – and now Arias wants his money as well. On Tuesday, her lawyers at Adams & Clark filed a complaint in Superior Court in Maricopa County, Arizona accusing Nurmi of breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment. Arias claims she is due whatever fees her former lawyer has earned from sales of the book and related speaking engagements.
There seems to be no real dispute that Nurmi disclosed client confidences about Arias and her case in the book, including information that was excluded from her trial. He said, for instance, that family members told him Arias had in the past tortured animals (an allegation Arias denies) and that Arias’ mother was “clearly lying … so poorly that it would have been laughable under other circumstances” when she described her daughter’s bruises from the boyfriend’s supposed abuse.
Nurmi also revealed his own view of his client’s guilt, asserting that she “went to great lengths to kill (her boyfriend) as opposed to ‘protecting herself,’ as she claimed.” He said Arias – and not he – insisted on the strategy of smearing her victim. “I wanted no part of Ms. Arias’s plan,” Nurmi wrote. “What I ultimately had on my hands was a woman who clearly had brutally killed her former boyfriend and who wanted to claim that he was an abusive pedophile … Ms. Arias wanted to attack Mr. Alexander’s reputation on a worldwide stage and she wanted me to aid her in this quest.”
Arias’ complaint alleges Nurmi violated at least a dozen ethics rules. Her lawyers summed up their theory in an email comment: “(Nurmi) revealed confidential and privileged information, and violated his most basic ethical and fiduciary duties to Ms. Arias,” they wrote. “His book … also contained false statements about Ms. Arias and gross misstatements about her case. He wrote the book in a selfish attempt to ‘redeem’ his public image and enrich himself to the extreme detriment of Ms. Arias.”
Nurmi, meanwhile, said the book is his principled attempt to, among other things, undo the harm the Arias defense inflicted on her ex-boyfriend. He has also insisted that Arias waived the right to claim her confidences were privileged when she revealed their conversations publicly.
“When I wrote this book, I believed it to be an ethically proper response to the waivers Ms. Arias made in her numerous public statements about me,” Nurmi said. “It is an assessment I stand by today. Standing up to the abuse Ms. Arias imparted upon me over the years was an important part of my personal transformation and I will continue to fight this battle with vigor as I defend against this lawsuit which is best viewed as a continuation of Ms. Arias’ pattern of attacking men whom she feels have wronged her.”
The Arizona bar apparently disagreed with Nurmi’s assessment of his ethical obligations. Last November, he agreed to disbarment, without admitting misconduct, after the bar found Nurmi’s book was written without Arias’ consent, portrayed her in a negative light, disclosed facts and impressions about her case and “included several confidential discussions between Mr. Nurmi, Arias and her family.”
It’s not unheard of, of course, for defense lawyers to write books about their cases. Johnnie Cochran wrote about the O.J. Simpson case in “A Lawyer’s Life,” for example, and Alan Dershowitz detailed his defense of Claus von Bulow, accused of attempted murder of his wife, in “Reversal of Fortune.” Notably, both of those books involved clients who were acquitted – and both authors had permission from their clients. Arias, by contrast, claims Nurmi has compromised any chance she might have to overturn her conviction, and that he did so without her authorization.
Nurmi is now a life coach for lawyers, promising that his “unconventional story of turmoil, transformation and triumph” can help them learn how to find a “joyful, productive and trouble-free legal career,” according to his website. I have a feeling the latest salvo from Arias will give him some new material.