That’ll be good for a few headlines.
Truth is, it’s common for judges to threaten defense attorneys – never prosecutors, but defense attorneys – with contempt and other sanctions. Particularly when the defense attorneys are not following the unstated rules, and are instead trying to actually win an acquittal.
What is the stated reason for this seemingly indignant chastisement in open court?
Rodriquez [a defense expert witness] was making opinions to the jury that were not found in his final report, violating the Judge’s orders that all opinions made in court must be contained in a report provided to all parties to the trial. The Judge’s intention was to prevent trial “by ambush” where one side would be surprised by unanticipated questioning of witnesses.
That’s the stated reason. Of course it is bullshit. The real reason is that the
testimony of the expert was extremely damaging not only to the prosecution’s “duct tape” idiocy, but if understood and accepted could lead the jury to wonder why Judge Perry ever signed off on that ridiculous and now obviously inflammatory video. That is a double whammy: it not only dramatically undermines the prosecution’s case, it also leads to questions about the judge’s impartiality.
So the judge is mad, and he’s using his position to retaliate. The prosecution had more than a free hand in presenting evidence to the jury that the “placement of the duct tape” was a vitally important issue in the case, including showing that stupid video. By admitting that video into evidence, and I’m sure other subtler words, expressions and actions, Judge Perry signaled to the jury his credulity of the prosecution’s claims.
Now comes along an expert who says by implication that the prosecution and Judge Perry must be morons. Which is at least half true. And Judge Perry doesn’t like it. And so he’s going to punish the perpetrator by threatening him with jail, which is what judges do. It’s their trump card.
Also, very importantly, he’s trying to throw off Baez’ rhythm and prevent any “momentum” in favor of the defense from developing. This momentum is an intangible thing, but it’s part of the dynamic at a trial. Trial attorneys will know what I am talking about. Judges certainly do.
When you represent the disfavored litigant, your main adversary is the judge.
Update: Look how terrible the judge’s conduct really was (from CNN account):
The judge in the Casey Anthony murder trial ordered a defense witness off the stand Saturday and threatened attorney Jose Baez with contempt proceedings for failing to tell prosecutors about the witness’ planned testimony.
Forensic anthropologist William Rodriguez told Judge Belvin Perry after the jury had been excused that he was preparing to tell jurors that no conclusions can be drawn from duct tape found near 2-year-old Caylee Anthony’s body because of decomposition and movement of the bones by animals…Perry did not explain Rodriguez’ sudden absence after jurors were brought back into the room…
So imagine this from the jurors’ point of view. The witness starts to testify, the judge halts his testimony and orders him off the stand. The jury comes back and the witness isn’t there. If the juror is inclined to respect authority, which in a trial is the judge, then he would naturally conclude that there was something wrong with the witness’s testimony in the opinion of the judge, who is supposedly neutral.
The only way a juror sees through that is if he is willing to entertain the idea that the judge favors the prosecution. Tellingly, he apparently didn’t even wait for an objection by the prosecution.
What a terrible and unconscionably biased act on the part of the judge. Baez should move for a mistrial again and dress down the judge as publicly as the judge dressed him down. Only this time the dressing down would be justified.