Anyone who describes himself as “happily disbarred” is someone I want to have a conversation with. Former defense attorney Kirk Nurmi took his leave from the profession following his embattled experience defending accused murderer Jodi Arias. Arias admitted to stabbing and shooting her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander in his Mesa, Arizona home in 2008. Arias claimed she killed Alexander in self-defense. The case captured the attention of hundreds of thousands of people, myself included.
That being said, once the guilty verdict was handed down at the second trial, the case fell off my radar. So when I sat down to do some research before speaking to Mr. Nurmi, I was pleased to learn that he’s moved on from a very public case that must have been one of the most challenging of his career.
When I spoke to him, Nurmi was enjoying a beautiful sunny day on the veranda of his Arizona home with his beloved chihuahua nearby. There was an ease in his voice that was almost unrecognizable from that of the impassioned defense attorney whom millions watched defend a client that he, himself, could barely pretend to like. It makes me wonder: if Jodi Arias had never come into his life, would Nurmi still describe himself as “happily disbarred,” or would he have continued in his chosen profession?
He considers his words carefully before replying.
“I really don’t know,” he admits. “I absolutely still enjoy the law as a concept, I like discussing and learning about the law. I enjoy the intellectual pursuit. But I don’t miss the work.”
One can hardly blame him. From pretrial to final verdict, the case dragged on for an exhausting five years. During that time, Nurmi attempted to recuse himself from Arias's defense more than once, citing his client’s unreasonable demands and refusal to cooperate with the legal process. For her part, Arias seemed more than agreeable to it, as well, but the judge denied the change in representation.
“Once I had a sense of where this case was going, I was willing to give up the job, simply to get away from Ms. Arias,” Nurmi divulged in his tell-all book Trapped with Ms. Arias, published in 2015. “And when I could not get away, I realized that I was truly trapped in her case, which also meant I was trapped with her,” Nurmi wrote.
His book goes on to cite what Nurmi describes as Arias’s “deeply disturbed” behavior during the course of the trial as another reason why he sought to leave her defense team.
By the time the trial was over, it was no secret that there was no love lost between Nurmi and his client. Many commentators and legal peers maligned his endeavor to write the book, but Nurmi stands by his decision.
“I thought it was a proportionate and ethical response to her criticisms of my performance while defending her, and the defamation she spread once it was over,” Nurmi explains with that same lilt of contentment in his voice. “This case may be the one from my career that most people remember, but it doesn’t overshadow the other good work that I’ve done for my clients in the past. They know that I worked hard for them and if this case obscures that for outside observers, that doesn’t concern me.”
With the rise of social media running parallel to the timeline of the trial, Nurmi was among the first generation of defense attorneys to experience the wrath of an inflamed public as they watched the events unfold. Undoubtedly, those platforms most made his already difficult job even harder. But he seems to take it in stride as we discuss whether social media is a more positive or negative influence in cases like that of Jodi Arias.
“I don’t know that it’s one any more than the other,” he considers. “People have a right to know what’s happening in the courtroom, and maybe it helps create a better understanding of the process itself.” On the other hand, sometimes it throws a wrench in that process. “As these trials become more of a reality TV staple, there are implications for jury selection, witness credibility, and the purity of the process as a whole.”
Those who stayed glued to their televisions during the embattled trial may sneer at Nurmi’s decidedly content and comfortable demeanor. They may -- and do -- publicly accuse him of defending an admitted murderer or demonstrating indifference or insensitivity to the slain Alexander’s family. He hopes to dispel that image during his time at CrimeCon.
“I look forward to bringing a perspective to the discussion that’s often overlooked,” he says. “Many times, defense attorneys are ridiculed and despised or they’re seen as colluding with their client. People think that by defending them, we condone their actions or deny their guilt. It was clear that Ms. Arias killed Mr. Alexander. My job wasn’t to prove that she didn’t. My job was to represent for her the Constitutional rights that we all enjoy in this country, including accused criminals. That’s the job I did, and I did it successfully.”
With that job finished, Nurmi has turned a significant corner in his life. He dropped 75 pounds and was diagnosed with Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in late 2015. Now in remission, healthier, and happier, he enjoys his quiet life as an author and professional speaker. But he isn’t ready to rest on his laurels yet.
“Sometime in the future, I’d like to work with people who are experiencing what I experienced. There’s a lot of burnout and dissatisfaction in the legal profession. If I can help others deal with that and find happiness -- on the job or not -- then that’s something I’d like to do.”
Maybe old habits die hard. Or maybe, like Kirk Nurmi, they just evolve.
Kirk Nurmi will discuss his extensive experience at CrimeCon, including his representation of Jodi Arias. Register now to be part of what's sure to be a lively and informative discussion at CrimeCon 2017.