A Miami defense lawyer brought new meaning to the term “hot pants” when his pants started smoking during his closing arguments in court earlier this week. Stephen Gutierrez, 28, was defending a client who, coincidentally, was accused of arson.
Stephen Gutierrez, who was arguing that his client’s car spontaneously combusted and was not intentionally set on fire, had been fiddling in his pocket as he was about to address jurors when smoke began billowing out his right pocket, witnesses told the Miami Herald.
He rushed out of the Miami courtroom, leaving spectators stunned. After jurors were ushered out, Gutierrez returned unharmed, with a singed pocket, and insisted it wasn’t a staged defense demonstration gone wrong, observers said.
“It was surreal,” one witness told the Miami Herald. “A lot of people could have been hurt,” another person said.
Gutierrez said the culprit was “a faulty battery in an e-cigarette,” according to observers. Miami-Dade police are investigating and have “seized several frayed e-cigarette batteries as evidence.”
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman is considering whether to hold Gutierrez in contempt of court, according to the Miami Herald. The jury, in the meantime, convicted Gutierrez’s client, Claudy Charles, of second-degree arson.
Gutierrez later sent the following statement to the Miami New Times:
Shortly after beginning my argument, I noticed that my pocket began to feel hot. When I checked my pocket, I noticed that the heat was coming from a small e-cigarette battery I had in my pocket. I noticed the heat was intensifying, and left the courtroom as quickly as possible – straight into the bathroom. I was able to toss the battery in water after it singed my pocket open.
Gutierez told WPXI on Friday that the incident has prompted him to quit vaping e-cigarettes. He said he wanted to let people know that “those things can actually be dangerous.”
Despite all the jokes and puns about his courtroom mishap, Gutierrez was a good sport. “I understand everyone is going to make this into a joke,” he said.
“The last 72 hours have been crazy,” he added. “I’ll tell you something, it’s never how you think it’s going to play out.”
Used by millions of Americans who are trying to quit smoking, e-cigarettes deliver vaporized nicotine without chemicals and carcinogens. But despite their popularity, they remain unregulated and are not yet FDA-approved, according to PublicHealth.org. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently banned e-cigarettes from checked bags on airplanes.
CNN reported in January that the FDA found 134 incidents in the U.S. from 2009 to January 2016 that involved e-cigarette batteries overheating, catching fire, or even exploding.
In one particularly egregious mishap in Florida last year, an e-cigarette exploded in a Naples man’s mouth “leaving him in a coma,” according to the Miami Herald.
A New York man was hospitalized when his e-cigarette exploded in his pants pocket while he was working at a Grand Central store, CBS New York reported last November.