Court of Appeal Rebukes "Lack of Courtesy and Decorum" in the Courtroom -- on the Part of the Trial Judge:

From the California Court of Appeal in Haluck v. Ricoh Electronics

Somewhere midpoint in trial, in overruling one of plaintiffs’ objections, the judge held up a hand-lettered sign, apparently prepared by him, stating “overruled.” The next day, when the court overruled another of plaintiffs’ objections, defendants’ attorney presented the judge with a different sign, stating: “Your honor, I want to help you if I may. This is a much nicer version. [¶] The Court: Better than my homemade one. [¶] Ms. Reinglass: Plaintiffs object to Mr. Callahan presenting another ‘overruled’ sign to the court. The court’s sign was adequate enough. [¶] The Court: The court will await receiving a ‘sustained’ sign from plaintiff[s] so we can split the benefits here. [¶] Ms. Reinglass: How many do I get?”

A week later, when plaintiffs’ lawyer objected to a question, the court apparently used Mr. Callahan’s “overruled” sign. “Ms. Reinglass: [I am objecting to a]ny reading of the document not in evidence. [¶] The Court: He’s not reading, [he’s] asking questions. [¶] Ms. Reinglass: Hopefully he won’t read. [¶] The Court: And hopefully he won’t keep talking. [¶] Mr. Callahan: Your honor, I didn’t get a chance to make that. [¶] The Court: It took too much time to make that sign. [¶] Ms. Reinglass: And there’s a sign, and I object to that. [¶] The Court: He is directing it to me. It’s lightening things up. And the jury nods.”

Midway into the trial, the court stated, “Jeffrey [the clerk], we’re going to the soccer style method here. Red card, 50 bucks each. Okay. If I say, red card plaintiff, write it down, 50 bucks. Red card defense, 50 bucks. [¶] We’ll keep a running tab. End of trial, we’ll collect it from them and we may take you guys [presumably the jury] to lunch at a very nice place. Okay. Court has enough money for now, and that will either stop the talking or give you a very nice lunch.” (Italics added.)

Over the next 20 pages of transcript, during which plaintiff Litton was being examined, defendants’ lawyer raised at least nine objections, six of which were overruled, with no mention of a red card. Then, when plaintiffs’ counsel stated she was reading the last portion of a deposition, defendants’ counsel stated, “Very good. [¶] . . . [¶] I probably shouldn’t say very good. No objection.” The court states, “That’s an orange card, not a red card.”

During the next 12 pages or so in the transcript, defendants’ lawyer made three objections, two of which were overruled. As plaintiffs’ lawyer continued her examination of Litton, she noted she was almost finished with a section. Defendants’ counsel stated “352.” The court responded, “351 and a half. [¶] Go ahead.” After several questions, defendants’ lawyer stated, “351 and three-quarters,” to which the court replied, “Overruled. Numbers junky.” No red cards were mentioned.

Over the next 10 pages of transcript, defendants’ lawyer raised two more objections, one of which was overruled. Defendants then interposed a hearsay objection. The court asked, “We’re going to have [the expert witness] testify, right? [¶] Ms. Reinglass: Pardon me? [¶] The Court: We’re going to have him testifying, right? [¶] Ms. Reinglass: Yes. [¶] The Court: And [Litton] is testifying to his numbers pretrial and questioned on the complaint and not about experts and discovery, so we’ll wait for the expert to tell us what those numbers were and how had he arrived on them. [¶] Sustained. [¶] Ms. Reinglass: May I? [¶] The Court: Red card plaintiff, Jeffrey. [¶] Ms. Reinglass: I was asking. [¶] The Court: 5-0. Next question.”

In testifying as to his emotional distress, Litton stated that he felt like he was in a white room without doors or windows that had no boundaries. On cross-examination as to this testimony, the following exchange occurred:

“Mr. Callahan: Q Have you ever heard of The Twilight Zone?” [¶] A Yes sir. [¶] Q Goes kind of like this, do do, do do. [¶] Ms. Reinglass: Your Honor, I would just object. This is argument. [¶] The Court: Your objection’s on the record, ma’am. [¶] Ms. Reinglass: Also improper argument. [¶] Mr. Callahan: You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind, a journey into a wondrous land, whose boundaries are that of imagination[;] that’s a sign post up ahead, your next stop, The Twilight Zone. Do do, do do. Do do, do do. [¶] The Court: That was terrible. Get to the question, please. [¶] Ms. Reinglass: Noting for the record, counsel was singing The Twilight Zone theme song. [¶] The Court: And how the jurors left it will be reflected on the same record. [¶] By Mr. Callahan: Q Endless white room with no doors or windows. [¶] Is that where you got your idea of this white room theory? [¶] . . . [¶] A From where? [¶] . . . [¶] The Court: Twilight Zone. That’s his question. [¶] The Witness: No sir. [¶] Mr. Callahan: Do do, do, do. Do do, do do. [¶] Ms. Reinglass: I request that counsel stop singing. As entertaining as it is for the jury, it’s mocking my client and mocking the trial. [¶] By Mr. Callahan: Q Ever heard of The Twilight Zone, the show? [¶] A Yes sir. [¶] The Court: For the record, he hit a few notes of The Twilight Zone theme song which I don’t see as mocking. He was off color [sic]. [¶] Mr. Callahan: I go through life tone deaf and colorblind. This is tough.” . . .

There's more; see here for details. The Court of Appeal's conclusion (again, see the opinion for its supporting arguments): 'Judicial ethics require a judge to 'be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants . . . [and] . . . lawyers . . . and . . . require similar conduct of lawyers . . . under the judge’s direction and control.' (Cal. Code Jud. Ethics, canon 3(B)(4).) The delineated exchanges between the court and counsel are the antithesis of judicial decorum and courtesy."

Thanks to Jeremy Ross for the pointer.