If those reports are correct, Progressive's coy, semantic word-play is flatly unacceptable. In fact, it's dishonest, condescending, and shows a stubborn naivety about the public's ability to uncover facts.
UPDATE #2: Progressive's PR firm, Allison+Partners, have issued the following statement:
Jeffrey R. Moffet represented Progressive and Progressive only. At no time did Mr. Moffet state, infer, suggest that he, in any way, represented [the defendant] Mr. Hope nor did he consult with Mr. Hope’s attorney on their defense. Mr. Hope was represented solely by his attorney.
The plot thickens. We'll see if Mr. Fisher has a response to these clarifications.
UPDATE #3: A commenter pointed out that Mr. Fisher has posted a response. Here's the most important bit:
At the beginning of the trial on Monday, August 6th, an attorney identified himself as Jeffrey R. Moffat and stated that he worked for Progressive Advanced Insurance Company. He then sat next to the defendant. During the trial, both in and out of the courtroom, he conferred with the defendant. He gave an opening statement to the jury, in which he proposed the idea that the defendant should not be found negligent in the case. He cross-examined all of the plaintiff’s witnesses. On direct examination, he questioned all of the defense’s witnesses. He made objections on behalf of the defendant, and he was a party to the argument of all of the objections heard in the case. After all of the witnesses had been called, he stood before the jury and gave a closing argument, in which he argued that my sister was responsible for the accident that killed her, and that the jury should not decide that the defendant was negligent.
I am comfortable characterizing this as a legal defense.
So technically, Progressive may be telling the truth: it's possible that Moffet (or Moffat) didn't "officially" represent the defendant or consult with the defendant's attorney. However, if Mr. Fisher's account is accurate, Moffet (or Moffat) did, in fact, take part in the defense. Which is essentially the same thing.
From where we sit, it seems like Progressive is playing with words. And in the PR world, playing with words is about as smart as playing with live grenades.
Your move, Progressive.
UPDATE #4: This story is causing so much hubbub, it has roused the old Gray Lady. The New York Times paints a fuller picture of the case -- and the egg on Progressive's face.