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Zimmerman's lawyer launches social media campaign

George Zimmerman in court
George Zimmerman, center, speaks with his attorney Mark O'Mara during an April 20 bond hearing at the Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford, Fla.Gary W. Green / Pool / EPA

George Zimmerman's attorney has launched an all-out social media campaign on behalf of his client, accused of second-degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

That social media effort includes a Facebook page, a website and a Twitter account on behalf of Zimmerman.

"We understand that it is unusual for a legal defense to maintain a social media presence on behalf of a defendant, but we also acknowledge that this is a very unusual case," says Zimmerman attorney Mark O'Mara on the new site, George Zimmerman Legal Case

The American Bar Association's standards of professional conduct does not deal with social media, a spokesman for the ABA told msnbc.com, but "it's certainly going to be on everyone's radar screen" now.

Stephen A. Saltzburg, a member of the ABA's governing body, the House of Delegates, and former chairman of the ABA's criminal justice section, said "generally speaking, lawyers are not supposed to be making public statements that could compromise a fair trial." 

Whether the Zimmerman social media effort will do that would be up to a judge, Saltzburg said.

"Social media is kind of a new thing. I suspect judges in highly publicized cases are going to think about trying to order lawyers and defendants to stay away from social media in order not to taint the jury pool."

Zimmerman started his own website, "The Real George Zimmerman," April 9, two days before he was arrested and charged with Martin's murder. In the two weeks the site was up, Zimmerman raised $204,000 before O'Mara shut that site down.

O'Mara said last week that money now has been put into an account that can't be accessed directly by Zimmerman or his family.

"We have worked to shut down all of Mr. Zimmerman’s websites and social profiles," O'Mara said on the new site. "It is not in Mr. Zimmerman’s best interests to speak publicly about this case, and as he has hired us to represent him, we feel part of our responsibility to our client is to provide a voice for Mr. Zimmerman, but only when it is appropriate to do so."

msnbc.com

The attorney said on the new site he understands and acknowledges "the criticism that this is an opportunistic move using the event of a tragedy for personal or firm gain. Rest assured, that if the controversy surrounding this matter subsided tomorrow, so would our efforts to address the perceived problems the way we feel is necessary."

But social media, he said, cannot be ignored "in this day and age ... It is now a critical part of presidential politics, it has been part of revolutions in the Middle East, and it is going to be an unavoidable part of high-profile legal cases, just as traditional media has been and continues to be. We feel it would be irresponsible to ignore the robust online conversation, and we feel equally as strong about establishing a professional, responsible, and ethical approach to new media."

The defense team hopes to disrupt "misinformation" about the case, which they believe is rife. "There is a tremendous volume of conversation on the Internet regarding news about this case. Some of it is based on fact; some is opinion and speculation; some is rumor; and some is malicious misinformation. We are in a position to distinguish (when appropriate) fact from the rest," O'Mara said on the site. 

But some would say the defense is not in a position to distinguish fact "from the rest," as it is not the judge or the jury. 

O'Mara also made clear on the website that the defense team "cannot and will not comment about the facts of the case, as that is the purpose of the courts and legal process. Part of our presence online is to discourage public speculation about the facts of the case."

How the defense will both distinguish the facts of the case without commenting on those facts may be quite tricky. We tried reaching O'Mara at his office, and will update this story if we hear back.

The Facebook page, George Zimmerman Legal Case, shows a photo of a cozy-looking house. (It's not Zimmerman's; it's O'Mara's office in Orlando, Fla.) 

On the page, people are welcome to comment about the case, but, said O'Mara, "we have begun removing posts that we feel are inappropriate, and if you find your post has disappeared, it is likely for one of the following reasons." Among them: "profane and/or racially charged language," "speculation about the facts of the case which must and will only be discussed in a court of law," "aggressively disparaging or unfairly critical of people associated with the case," and perhaps chillingly, those that "contained a threat."

msnbc.com

"We will not remove posts simply because they are critical of George Zimmerman or his legal defense," O'Mara says on the page.

A Twitter account, GZlegalCase, is also up and running; a legal defense fund website is in the works. 

"We do intend to raise funds on behalf of our client, and when we are approved to do so, we will accept funds online," O'Mara said on the George Zimmerman Legal Case site. "We understand that this is controversial, but Mr. Zimmerman deserves a fair trial, and mounting a defense is an expensive proposition."

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