The highly publicized domestic violence case against Ant-Man actor Jonathan Majors continues to play out in the court of public opinion. Majors’ arrest in March on assault charges became a massive story overnight. And his lead attorney Priya Chaudry has not shied away from discussing her team’s legal strategy with outlets ranging from TMZ to Business Insider.
Given how public Majors’ legal team has been, The Root spoke to attorneys about their thoughts on Majors’ public defense strategy and what it might tell us about the case.
It’s risky to be this public, says New York criminal defense attorney Julie Rendelman. “There’s always a risk when you say too much,” says Rendelman. “Let’s suppose your client has told you something or you believe a witness is going to say something in your favor, and you don’t realize that the District Attorney has other evidence that is going to contradict what they’ve said; then you’ve put yourself in a sticky situation.”
However, the fact that Majors is a celebrity with a lot to lose does impact that calculation, says Rendelman.
“When you’re dealing with a public figure, there are two issues; it’s not just the criminal case, it’s also his potential future in terms of his private acting life and the celebrity aspect,” she says. “He also has his future career in mind, and I’m sure his attorneys do as well.”
One aspect of the case that’s garnered a lot of attention was his legal team’s decision to release video of the alleged victim at a bar the night of Majors’ arrest as well as text messages she allegedly sent to Majors.
There are a couple of ways you could read that choice, especially in regards to the video, says Leigh Goodmark, a law professor at the University of Maryland and a domestic violence expert. “On the one hand, it’s a way to get out ahead of the story,” says Goodmark. “on the other hand, it may be a way to say to her, don’t bother, don’t do this because we’re going to tear you up, it’s a way to send a message. It’s hard to know what the intent behind it is.”
His legal team has also hinged their strategy in arguing that her alleged decision to recant proves that she wasn’t abused. But Goodmark says it’s not that simple.
“There are many, many reasons why people don’t want to prosecute even in cases where they’ve been harmed, and we don’t know whether that’s the situation here or not,” she says, “but even assuming that she was genuinely harmed, there are hundreds of reasons why people choose not to go forward with the prosecution.”
Many survivors of domestic violence don’t want themselves or their loved ones to be subjected to the criminal justice system, especially when the case involves someone high-profile like Jonathan Majors, she says. “In a high profile case, where you’re the victim, and you look at, for example, what happened to Amber Heard, you think, I don’t want that in my life,” she says. Ultimately, says Goodmark, the decision about whether to push forward should be in the hands of the person who was victimized.
One highly publicized aspect of the case has been Chaudry’s assertion that the New York Police Department racially profiled her client. In a letter to the judge, provided to Business Insider, Chaudry asserts that “police jumped to the conclusion that Mr. Majors (the young, tall, strong, rich Black man) must have ‘done this.”
Bringing race into a case like this is not a great strategy if you’re trying to win over a judge and jury, argues Former San Francisco Prosecutor Paul Henderson. “It’s a smart thing to do for PR but a dangerous thing to do in court,” explains Henderson.
Bringing race into this case allows the media to have a sympathetic hook, and it also gives a “back door” for companies “to continue supporting him,” he says. But in court, you’d have to back those assertions up and prove that race was a motivating factor and not say, her visible injuries.
A competent prosecutor would also bring up the fact that Majors isn’t like every other Black person on the street, he says. “I would...make sure that the jury remembers that we are not like Jonathan Majors; we are not millionaire stars walking on the street,” says Henderson.
Goodmark agrees that publicly calling the NYPD out for racism is a risky strategy. “It’s not something you see all the time in these cases because people tend to do be pretty risk averse,” she says, “about calling out racism in the system, when you’re at the mercy of that system.”