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Advice to Clients in Wake of Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on November 25, 2014 9:56 AM

Now that the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri has decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown, there were protests, and there will be more protests.

As a lawyer, you might be representing one of any number of groups affected by the protests, whether they're business owners in areas where people are gathering; crime victims; or the protestors themselves. Here's some basic and practical advice you can give to each of these clients.

Local Businesses

Now's a good time to have your small business owner clients check their insurance policies if they live in an area that's prone to riots or disturbances. For maximum safety, a business insurance policy should include coverage for loss caused by fire or vandalism as well as "business interruption insurance," which protects a business owner if something happens that disrupts business.

Insureon, a provider of small business insurance, additionally cautions that you shouldn't assume something is covered: "Some policies need to be written to explicitly include glass window insurance for broken store windows and plate glass windows." You'd think that would be covered under regular property insurance -- but maybe not.

(As an aside, please let clients know that it's not OK to use deadly force to defend property.)

The Crime Victims

The best thing you can do if you represent the victims of a crime that instigate a protest or riot is tell them to keep a low profile. In the case of Ferguson, Michael Brown's family held a press conference in anticipation of the grand jury's decision, urging peace regardless of the outcome. This puts the family (your client in this hypothetical) on record as being against violent protests, meaning no one can come back later claiming anyone stoked the flames of violence. Then just ride out whatever comes next.

The Protestors

If you're in the tricky position of representing people who are going to be protesting, the National Lawyers Guild is your best friend. NLG provides legal (and practical) advice to protestors and also furnishes trained legal advisers to monitor the situation in the event a protest gets out of control.

In addition to giving clients the obvious lecture on not doing anything the police could use as a pretext for arrest or unnecessary roughness, remind them that court is the right time to fight back (dismayed as you may be right now at the workings of the system in Missouri). Even if the client believes an officer's acts are unlawful, fighting back could result in a separate charge of assaulting a police officer.

Oh, and keep your phone charged just in case you get a call.

Any other tips for lawyers dealing with a protest situation? Let us know via Twitter (@FindLawLP) or Facebook (FindLaw for Legal Professionals).

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