All Rise in the Court of Public Opinion

May 22, 2009 at 10:58 am 2 comments

Pittsburgh mother Grace DeIuliis is using public relations and social media to shape the prosecution of her child’s accused attacker.17-year-old Robertino DeAngelis is charged with attempted homicide against his ex-girlfriend Sarah DeIuliis, Grace’s daughter. DeAngelis is alleged to have lured Sarah to a secluded area and beaten her over the head with a hammer until an off-duty police officer came upon the scene. Judge Anthony Mariani has sent the case to juvenile court, triggering Grace’s crusade to have the accused attacker tried as an adult. She is on Twitter and Facebook and has launched a blog, “Adult Time for an Adult Crime.” 

Grace DeIuliis has hired Forge Communications to raise public awareness and help convince Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala to appeal the judge’s decision. On its Web site, Forge shows “Litigation Support” as a specialty, protecting and enhancing the public image of a legal firm’s client to improve the odds of a favorable verdict. Brief case studies outline Forge’s successful work on behalf of defendants, the typical recipients of such PR efforts. This time, Forge is working against the defendant in the employ of a mother fighting the system.

Grace DeIuliis’ family attorney, John Gismondi, is quoted as saying the DA is not happy about his client’s PR campaign, especially since the prosecutor’s office has already declined to challenge the judge’s decision to send the case to juvenile court. I believe Mr. Gismondi’s conclusion. When I co-managed media relations for the Santa Barbara County District Attorney during the Michael Jackson criminal trial, I saw staunch adherence to the prosecutorial adage: “We do not want to try this case in the media.” However, DAs have little choice regarding media presence when a case captures public attention. The deck is stacked against them. A defense attorney is expected to grandstand, but a DA who is comfortable before the cameras often invites rebuke.

High profile defendants and “persons of interest, ” such as Drew Peterson and Rod Blagojevich, routinely enlist public relations pros (the ex-cop and ex-governor use the same PR agency). Companies defending against civil action are wise to take a similar course. Grace DeIuliis is now adapting the model to pursue her agenda within the justice system. More than a decade has passed since the media locked onto an aggrieved Fred Goldman as he protested the unfolding O.J. Simpson murder trial. Today, thanks to the Web and social media, activists are their own broadcasters.

Ms. DeIuliis’ attorney and other quoted experts are right in warning that her campaign may backfire. She may come off as a bully or loudmouth. Her use of a PR agency may seem like overkill. The DA is likely to resent and resist further pressure. In the end, Grace DeIuliis may fail in having Robertino DeAngelis tried as an adult, but she has already succeeded in reminding us that no one has to take “no” for an answer in the Internet age.


Entry filed under: Crisis Communications, Public Relations, Social Media. Tags: , , , , , .

Night at the Pontiac Museum Sounds Like a Villain to Me

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jonathan Vos Post  |  May 23, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    The DA can shove it. Live by the 1st Amendment; die by the 1st Amendment. It cuts both ways.

    I was pretty upset when the bastard who totaled my car in a hit and run turned out to be City Manager and City Attorney of Temple City. He plea-bargained out of the criminal misdemeanor trial, and I recovered nada. So I worked the PR and electioneering angles. The bum still lives in a San Marino Mansion, but is no longer a dual office-holder. And, soon, not in any official capacity at Temple City.

    The meta-law is: for every injury, there exists a remedy.

    Do what you must to be Made Whole.

  • 2. James Strock  |  May 23, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    Good for Ms. Delulis! What does her family have to lose? The DA is a public official, and his decisions are certainly open to legitimate question. Query whether the DA would react so ominously were he not concerned about public reaction.

    As you say, Jason, “authorities” no longer have a monopoly on communications–and they never have a monopoly on truth.

    For the attacker to get away with such wickedness when there are apparently no mitigating circumstances other than a few turns of the calendar page would be a disgrace.


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