The criminal defense attorney hired by the family of murder suspect Nima Momeni, who's been described by colleagues using various attack-dog metaphors, has issued an apology for some incendiary comments about victim Bob Lee earlier this week. But this may just be indicative of her style.
Paula Canny was hired the day of Momeni's arrest, April 13, despite the fact that she was on vacation in France. As SFist noted at the time, the first word that appears in bold lettering when you open her law firm's website is "aggressive," and the text promises that Canny will "attack the prosecution's case to expose its weakness."
A retired San Mateo Superior Court Judge Marta Diaz who's worked extensively with Canny told Mission Local last week that Canny litigates like "a dog on a bone."
Now, as far as most of us can tell at this point, the prosecution's case sounds quite strong, with video evidence and circumstantial witness testimony. But Canny, before reviewing the evidence, was already doing a TV interview from her Paris hotel room the day of Momeni's first court appearance casting doubt on the evidence, and saying that she didn't see compelling proof of first-degree murder.
Canny said "there's so much more to this and there's a much greater backstory than is disclosed" in the prosecution's filings so far.
Canny may just be angling for a lesser charge and sentence in the end, and that is her job. But earlier this week, after she appeared in court in San Francisco to request a third delay for Momeni's arraignment — it's now scheduled for May 18 — she stood before a a group of reporters outside the courtroom and offered some off-the-cuff thoughts about a just-released toxicology report that many saw as textbook victim-blaming.
In point of fact, the toxicology report found that Lee had cocaine and ketamine in his system — both pretty popular party drugs in these parts — as well as some kind of antihistamine.
But Canny engaged in some hyperbole saying, "There’s a lot of drugs in Bob Lee’s system. I mean, Bob Lee’s system is like the Walgreens of recreational drugs."
She went on to say, "Every recreational drug that a person could take was in his system … put on your thinking caps — what happens when people take drugs? Generally, they act like drug people. And what did wrong people act like? Not themselves? Not happy-go-lucky, just kind of losery and make bad decisions and do bad things."
All of her comments can be seen in the news clip below from KTVU.
Canny herself has admitted to being an addict in her past, going to the Betty Ford Clinic in the 1980s to get clean. But these remarks felt especially below-the-belt and no doubt were upsetting to Lee's family and friends.
District Attorney Brooke Jenkins also pushed back immediately, commenting, "Regardless of whether somebody has or has not done drugs, that does not give someone a license to kill them," she said, per the Chronicle. "And so we are going to continue course, with the facts that we know, because we believe that regardless of whatever that toxicology report may show that Mr. Momeni is guilty of murder."
Jenkins also characterized Canny's denigration of the victim as a "customary" tactic for a criminal defense attorney.
Now, two days later, Canny has apologized. "I apologize for my remarks to the press following Tuesday's court appearance, especially to Bob Lee's family, friends, and loved ones," Canny said in a statement sent through a PR firm, per KPIX. "I regret that I characterized the autopsy toxicology screen in such an insensitive and cavalier way. I was out of line and wrong. I am sorry."
So Canny's hired a PR firm now, and perhaps that is wise given the high-profile nature of the case. We will still likely see a fair bit of Canny on camera in the coming months, as she seems to like the spotlight. For years she has been an on-camera legal analyst for local television stations, most recently commenting on convicted murderer Scott Peterson's ongoing efforts to get his conviction overturned. Canny also appeared prominently in the 2017 A&E mini-series "The Murder of Laci Peterson."
15 years ago, Canny worked as the attorney for Greg Anderson, the trainer for disgraced baseball star Barry Bonds who was accused of providing him with steroids.
Canny has already said that Momeni will be pleading not guilty, "because he is not guilty." And she told those same reporters outside the courtroom that the latest delay in the arraignment was strategic, saying "it's all about timing," and that decisions were being made about when to schedule the preliminary hearing in the case.
As KPIX reports, Lee's ex-wife, Krista Lee, said publicly on Tuesday that she was "very disappointed" that the arraignment had been delayed for a third time.
Top image: Paula Canny in 2011 appearing in court for client Greg Anderson. Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images