It has all the makings of a great viral news story. A young lawyer defending an arsonist in Miami runs out of the courtroom during his closing arguments because his pants are on fire. How ironic. Maybe a little too ironic.
Stephen Gutierrez, the 28-year-old lawyer with the flaming pants, was defending Claudy Charles who was accused of intentionally setting his car on fire. Gutierrez argued that the car spontaneously combusted and, conveniently enough, the lawyer’s pants appeared to spontaneously combust themselves, demonstrating just how unpredictable fire can be. Gutierrez told the Associated Press that he came down with a classic case of hot pocket just as he was beginning to address the jury.
“When I checked my pocket, I noticed that the heat was coming from a small e-cigarette battery I had in my pocket,” said Gutierrez, who said he had “two to three of the batteries” in his pocket and ran to a courthouse bathroom to put out the fire. “I was able to toss the battery in water after it singed my pocket open.”
When Gutierrez re-entered the courtroom, he insisted that the incident wasn’t staged. However, witnesses told The Miami Herald that the defense attorney “had been fiddling in his pocket as he was about to address jurors when smoke began billowing out his right pocket.” It’s unclear if Gutierrez had anything else in his pocket, but it’s possible that two lithium-ion batteries, the kind typically used in e-cigarettes, could short circuit by touching a piece of metal or even another battery. That’s why you’re not supposed to keep 9V batteries in your junk drawer, since one wrong move can lead to a house fire.
There’s a good chance we’ll soon learn if Gutierrez’s courtroom antics were an accident or a very dangerous stunt to prove a point about fire. Miami-Dade police are reportedly investigating the incident, and the judge could decide to hold Gutierrez in contempt of court. Meanwhile, the defendant was found guilty of second-degree arson, so even if Gutierrez avoids charges himself, he’s still not doing so hot.