Q&A: How Mark NeJame Balances Family, Law, TV Shows
By Hal Boedeker
Posted August, 17 2013
Orlando attorney Mark NeJame turned down taking the George Zimmerman case, but he became a fixture during the trial on CNN and Central Florida News 13. NeJame, 58, continues to juggle the TV jobs with his law practice. In a recent interview at his home, he discussed the George Zimmerman trial, the Casey Anthony verdict and his family, which NeJame says is his priority.
How much will we see you on CNN now that the Zimmerman trial is over?
They've indicated they'd like me to appear more frequently. I'm happy to do that. They shoot most of it locally. We use a local studio or Central Florida News 13.
You're continuing on Central Florida News 13?
Almost daily. I love Central Florida News 13. I like being with both of them because they really are news.
What was the takeaway from doing analysis on the Casey Anthony trial for WKMG-Channel 6?
I think that case was revolutionary, because for the first time we had social media and we had the public involved in a case in real time. We saw how the media can affect a case, from jury selection to the way lawyers behave, and it kept branching out. I totally disagree with the outcome, the jury verdict. I thought she was guilty of first-degree murder. But with that said, it showed people the inner workings of the court system. I think the more we have press in the courtroom, the better educated we have a public. This is a way to allow people to better understand what's going on. Then we saw the Jodi Arias case and then in our backyard again we have the Zimmerman case. In all three cases, we saw social media truly make an impact and influence how people get their news and how trials are conducted.
Is it a good thing or a bad thing?
People can bemoan it or they can praise it. It really makes no difference. It's what exists. It's clearly the future. For those lawyers who say, "I'm not going to have anything to do with the media," shame on them. They're not doing justice to their clients. You need to understand that's the reality of where we live and where we're going. There's a time to deal with the press and a time when you don't talk to them. You're always dealing with the press.
What are the lasting lessons of the Zimmerman trial?
It tells us we have a lot further to go considering race relations in the United States. It also tells us the truth be damned when people form opinions. So many people on the polar extremes of that case, they did not care what the facts were. They were locked into their positions and their opinions, and they were not going to let the facts or truth on either side get in the way of their opinions. There's no question in my mind that the prosecution in that case was very politically motivated.
How was it politically motivated?
From the Governor's Office to the Attorney General's Office to the State Attorney's Office. That State Attorney's Office, the way they handled the case was shameful. Similarly, the black community has brought to the forefront that profiling is real. I think the dialogue is great as long as we're listening to each other.
How did defense attorney Mark O'Mara do?
I think Mark did very well. My firm refers cases out to other people, and I did that in this case. I really felt a social responsibility in this case when I referred the case out. We worked the Casey Anthony case doing commentary on WKMG. I knew that Mark didn't have a bigoted bone in his body. I knew he was very smart when it came to the law. He also knew how to deal with the press. Most importantly, he was not going to fuel the fire of passion. I thought he would be very measured and very calm.
Did that verdict surprise you?
Oh no, not at all. I had predicted the verdict from the very beginning. I followed the case closely. I knew a lot of the evidence. I never thought there would be a conviction. What makes me sad is that a lot of people in this culture don't understand the difference between giving a legal opinion and a moral one. People will never know my moral or philosophical opinions about the case. But when I gave legal opinions, I look at the evidence, at the information that's admissible and I draw a conclusion. That's what a legal commentator is supposed to do. Because you give a legal opinion, people confuse that with giving a personal opinion. And they're very distinct things.
What upset you most about that case?
The racism on both sides. There's no question in my mind that there are extremists on both sides. It saddens me that we still have that going on in this country.
What has analysis done for your practice?
I think it's allowed people to get to know me better. But it actually doesn't necessarily help business if I'm in the middle of it, because I'm not there as much on a day-to-day basis. I have a family life that's most important to me. I have a business life, I'm very involved in charity work.
How do you balance it?
Family comes first. After everybody is in bed I go until I crash. I'm an older father. My kids are 5 and 7. We celebrated 10 years with my amazing wife Josie, who is much younger than me. We went to Paris and renewed our vows. She is 34. We've been together for 15 years, married for 10. I love her dearly.
You are very good friends with your ex-wife, former WESH-Channel 2 anchor Wendy Chioji. How did you pull that off?
It wasn't hard. She's a wonderful person. We weren't meant to be married, but we were meant to be friends. We were together for five years, married for about half of that. She's family to me.
What point do you want to stress?
You can do it all. But you've got to have your priorities right. Being an older father is a great blessing to me. I know what my priorities are, and my priorities are my family. My children, I don't miss a day with them. It's nice to be in a position that I can say no. I turned down the Zimmerman case, in large part, because my family came first.
But you got another showcase via CNN.
A week later, I got a call from CNN. We signed the contract and away we went. It worked out great. News 13 was there at the same time. We were able to juggle both. It's been a great marriage, a little bit of bigamy.
What's your reaction to what Jose Baez wrote about you in his book, "Presumed Guilty"?
The garbage that was written in there about me was about as truthful as his client had been throughout the case. It was just complete unadulterated crap that he wrote. Look, I'm a little guy. But to be so sophomoric, to make fun of me being little. You just wish him well and hope he grows up. It's interesting that the largest case in the country is won, and you don't have a big fan base there.
What if you're ever on a CNN panel with Jose Baez?
I consider arguing with Jose Baez to be like shooting at an unarmed man.