Trial Practice Update


Judge’s Disparagement of Attorney Warrants Reversal: The New York Court of Appeals granted a new trial in the appeal by a defendant convicted of attempted car-jacking. The basis for the conviction’s reversal was the repeated comments made by the trial judge about defense counsel in front of the jury. At various times, including while cutting off defense counsel’s cross-examination of a prosecution witness, the judge referred to the lawyer’s conduct as “clown”-like and “silly.” The Court of Appeals found that these comments tainted the jury’s verdict and violated the defendant’s due process right to a fair trial. Of greater general applicability, the Court of Appeals took the opportunity to set forth the desired manner by which a trial court should reprimand counsel for perceived misconduct. It advised that the matter should be addressed directly with counsel outside the presence of the jury. Moreover, should the judge recognize that any comments made in front of the jury might be inappropriate, the court should give the jury a curative instruction. See People v. Leggett, 76 A.D. 3d 860, 908 N.Y. S. 2d 172 (Sept. 14, 2010)

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