Jodi Arias' Ex-Defense Lawyer, Kirk Nurmi, Disbarred Over Trial Tell-All Book

Kirk Nurmi has lost his license for writing a tell-all book about defending Jodi Arias without first obtaining the murderer's permission.
Kirk Nurmi has lost his license for writing a tell-all book about defending Jodi Arias without first obtaining the murderer's permission.
Andrew Pielage

Laurence "Kirk" Nurmi, the former lead defense attorney in the Jodi Arias murder trial, has lost his law license for writing a tell-all book about Arias that broke the wall of attorney-client privilege.

It's the latest instance of how Arias, who viciously attacked, mutilated, and killed her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in 2008 at his Mesa home, affects Nurmi's life from behind bars.

As writer Shanna Hogan covered in a New Times feature story about Nurmi in February, the long-running Arias case massively screwed up the Arizona lawyer's life. When the televised courtroom drama became a worldwide sensation, Nurmi became a target of public hate for defending her.

While working at the Maricopa County Public Defender's Office in 2008, Nurmi's supervisor handed him the Arias file, telling him, "It's a unique case." Nurmi saw immediately that the murder case was complicated, and he found out soon enough that Arias was a difficult client.

At first, though, he enjoyed the challenge and believed he would be able to help Arias, who was charged with first-degree murder, escape the death penalty.

Arias listens to testimony during her first trial.
Arias listens to testimony during her first trial.
David Wallace/Pool/Prensa Internacional/ZUMA Wire via Newscom.com

Nurmi told Hogan he grew to loathe Arias, her daily calls from jail, and her excessive needs. The case monopolized his time, thwarting his ability to work on other cases. Deciding Arias wasn't good for his career after all, Nurmi quit the public defender's office in 2011 and filed a motion to withdraw as Arias' attorney. Arias, who had a second court-appointed attorney,  persuaded Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens that Nurmi should be forced to continue what he started.

Indeed, this is the responsibility of defense attorneys. Had Nurmi been able to quit, the state likely would have incurred much more expense, and the trial would have been further delayed as a new lawyer got up to speed on the years-long proceedings.

Nurmi kept working as Arias' attorney alongside court-appointed lawyer Jennifer Wilmott. In May 2013, a jury convicted Arias of first-degree murder but deadlocked on the penalty. That sparked a new penalty-phase trial in which Arias wanted to represent herself. Judge Stephens denied that request, which meant Nurmi had to remain on the defense team. Finally, in April 2015, Nurmi was released from his servitude by the second conviction and subsequent life sentence for Arias.

Later in 2015, without obtaining permission from Arias, Nurmi wrote Trapped with Ms. Arias: Part 1 of 3 From Getting the File to Being Ready for Trial, and self-published it. The cover of the book features a pair of gold-colored handcuffs.

"The book, in its entirety, presents a negative view of [Arias] and her case," states the State Bar of Arizona's Agreement for Discipline by Consent, dated November 14, 2016.

In the book, Nurmi covers private and confidential discussions with Arias and her family members and makes "disparaging remarks" about her. He also went on a talk-radio show this year and last to promote the book, reiterating facts in it that he should not have discussed publicly.

Attorney-client privilege is one of the oldest legal concepts known to Western civilization, with examples of penalties for violating it going back to ancient Rome. It protects clients from testimony by their own legal defenders. The book would have been fine if Arias liked it, but Arias filed a complaint against Nurmi earlier this year with the state bar, resulting in the disciplinary case.

"In short, Mr. Nurmi violates numerous ethical rules in his single-minded quest to rehabilitate his public image and line his pocket book at the expense of all others involved — most especially, and egregiously, his client Ms. Arias," writes Karen Clark, the attorney Arias retained for the action, in a letter to the state bar in May.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez was known for his aggressive cross-examination of Jodi Arias.
Prosecutor Juan Martinez was known for his aggressive cross-examination of Jodi Arias.
AP/Pool Camera

Nurmi even insulted Arias' cat on page 158 of his book, Clark writes.

"He did so knowing this would hurt Ms. Arias, who deeply loves her cat," the letter states.

Nurmi didn't make out badly on the Arias case, Clark writes, noting that he earned an estimated $2.5 million in fees for the case.

Following an investigation by the bar, Nurmi agreed to a four-year suspension. Arias filed an objection to the suspension — but before she did that, Nurmi changed his mind and agreed to disbarment, says Rick DeBruhl, state bar spokesman.

DeBruhl says he can't comment on the Nurmi case, but that in general, it's usually acceptable for attorneys to write a book about what happened in their client's case — as long as the client gives permission.

Juan Martinez, the deputy county attorney who also gained fame in the Arias case, published his own book this year: Conviction: The Untold Story of Putting Jodi Arias Behind Bars. An as-yet-unrevealed person filed a complaint over that book, resulting in an investigation and the possibility of discipline for Martinez, if the bar finds that he committed an ethics violation.

Martinez was found responsible for violating several rules earlier this year; he received a one-year term of probation, which he's appealing.

UPDATE: Nurmi returned a message from Tuesday on Wednesday afternoon, saying he could talk about the disbarment next week.


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