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Zimmerman's former attorneys: Who are they?

By Ashley Hayes, CNN
updated 1:12 PM EDT, Wed April 11, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Both Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig are former prosecutors
  • Uhrig worked as a police officer while attending law school
  • The two said Tuesday they cannot represent George Zimmerman
  • The attorneys say they have lost contact with Zimmerman

(CNN) -- Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig have viewed courtrooms from both the prosecution and the defense table.

Until Tuesday, the two attorneys -- who have focused solely on criminal defense in recent years -- comprised the legal team representing George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida, who ignited a firestorm of controversy when he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February.

But while the two insist they believe and support Zimmerman's claim that he shot the teen in self-defense, they said Tuesday they could no longer claim to represent him, as they had lost contact with him.

Prosecutor to make announcement soon in Martin case

Of the two, Uhrig is likely more familiar with the media. He has served as a legal analyst for Fox 35 News, an Orlando television station. In July 2010, he hosted an online chat on the Fox 35 website for viewers about the Casey Anthony murder trial.

"Regardless of what the jury decides in this case, there will be controversy," he told one viewer. "We may never get the truth, but we will get a verdict." He signed off the chat with, "Got to close out and go to earn a living."

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In the chat, Uhrig praises both Judge Belvin Perry, who presided over the trial, and Cheney Mason, one of Anthony's defense attorneys.

The name of Jose Baez, Anthony's lead defense counsel, is not mentioned. But Wednesday, told that Baez and another high-profile defense attorney, Mark Geragos, were among the attorneys who criticized the news conference the two held regarding Zimmerman -- and also that Baez suggested they had violated attorney-client privilege -- Uhrig denied any violation.

"I checked the list of opinions who I treasure," Uhrig said, referring to Geragos and Baez. "They're not on the list."

Uhrig's career began at the Gainesville, Florida, police department, where he worked full-time while attending law school at the University of Florida in the early 1970s. He was a sergeant by the time he earned his law degree in 1974, according to his biography on the website of his current firm, The Defense Group.

After he graduated from law school, Uhrig served as general counsel and legal adviser to the Orange County Sheriff's Office for four years, and as a police legal adviser to 10 central Florida law enforcement agencies, the biography said. He was also vice president of the Central Florida Criminal Justice Council.

He then moved to the Florida attorney general's office, where he prosecuted cases in the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) and organized crime section in 1980. He later served as a public defender in the 9th Judicial Circuit and joined the law firm of Cotter, Uhrig and Valerino, near Orlando. His profile notes that he was board certified in family law during that time as well.

For the past 12 years, the profile says, Uhrig has been a managing member of an attorney group he founded, The Defense Group. According to its website, the firm limits its practice "to the defense of DUI and other criminal charges in the state and federal courts of Florida, and to the closely related representation in domestic and repeat violence injunction proceedings."

"Please do not rely on war stories from friends when making legal decisions that could affect your future," The Defense Group website cautions. "Many times a loved one calls our office frantically inquiring about an attorney for a stubborn family member who was convinced that his/her case would be dropped only to find out that charges were filed and the prosecutor is seeking jail time."

The firm says it does not list prior case results on its site "because we value our clients' privacy and hold the attorney-client privilege in the highest regard."

His profile also notes that Uhrig was lead counsel in the nation's first four trials involving DNA evidence, attended the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and did post-doctoral work at Case Western University in public safety law.

Under "activities and societies" on his profile, Uhrig writes: "Too busy with a wife, children and full time job for 'societies' or extra activities."

Sonner, meanwhile, earned his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Tennessee Technology University and his law degree from Ohio Northern University. He became a member of the Florida Bar in 2001.

"Craig devotes 100% of his practice to criminal defense," his website says. "As a former prosecutor for Seminole County State Attorney's office, he understands and uses his knowledge of the entire legal process to protect and defend your rights."

As a prosecutor, according to the site, he participated in "thousands of criminal cases -- from filing decisions, plea offer negotiations and arguing motions to the discovery process, jury selection and participation in jury trials.

"Many people are intimidated by the court system and do not fully understand their rights," the site says. "Craig has witnessed people standing alone in courtrooms before judges and prosecutors, accepting plea offers because they did not have anyone on their side to explain their rights or the consequences of their plea."

According to his website, Sonner defends clients facing many types of charges, including felonies, DUIs, Internet fraud, health care fraud, insurance fraud, mortgage fraud, sex crimes, homicide and drug charges. He maintains membership in a number of professional associations.

Since the two began speaking for Zimmerman, a Hispanic man, in recent weeks, they have vehemently denied he is a racist, despite allegations by Martin's family that he racially profiled the African-American teen, calling 911 to report a suspicious person prior to the shooting. The case has drawn thousands of protesters to Sanford and sparked demonstrations nationwide, demanding Zimmerman's arrest.

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Even as late as Wednesday, while saying he no longer can represent Zimmerman, Uhrig hinted that there is more to the case than has been publicly disclosed. A special prosecutor is deciding whether Zimmerman should face charges in Martin's death.

"We believe there's information and evidence in the possession of the prosecutor, the investigators, the police department, the (Florida) Department of Law Enforcement that if publicly known, might change some of the course of public opinion," Uhrig told CNN. "We're not at liberty to disclose (it). We don't have possession of it. What little we know might disclose a confidence as to where we learned about it, and (I'm) simply not going to go there."

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