In it’s decision dated May 15, 2013, the Supreme Court of the State of New York (“New York Supreme Court”) overturned a verdict in favor of the medical malpractice defendant and ordered that the medical malpractice case be retried before a different trial judge because “The trial justice demonstrated a propensity to interrupt, patronize, and admonish the plaintiff’s counsel, and gave the plaintiff’s counsel significantly less leeway with regard to examination and cross-examination of witnesses than that which was afforded the defendants’ counsel.”
As the New York Supreme Court stated in its opinion, “[A]ll litigants, regardless of the merits of their case, are entitled to a fair trial … A trial justice plays a “vital role in clarifying confusing testimony and facilitating the orderly and expeditious progress of the trial” but that “power is one that should be exercised sparingly” … Accordingly, a trial justice may not “so far inject himself [or herself] into the proceedings that the jury could not review the case in the calm and untrammelled spirit necessary to effect justice'” … A trial justice must maintain an atmosphere of impartiality … a trial justice should at all times maintain an impartial attitude and exercise a high degree of patience and forebearance.”
So, What Did The Trial Judge Do Wrong?
According to the New York Supreme Court, here are some examples:
After precluding the plaintiff’s counsel from cross-examining a witness, the trial judge advised the plaintiff’s counsel, in front of the jury, that she was aware of the rules of evidence regarding when an attorney and client can speak during a break, and would explain them to the plaintiff’s counsel “later.”
Following a somewhat heated discussion between the trial judge and the plaintiff’s counsel, the trial judge advised the plaintiff’s counsel, in front of the jury, to “go review the books tonight.”
The trial judge advised the plaintiff’s counsel, upon indicating that he was interrupting her, that she would not “allow the reporter to take any words from you at this point because I don’t think that you are going to do any service to yourself, the type of emotional tantrums that you have been having.”
The trial judge inappropriately admonished the plaintiff’s counsel, in front of the jury, to “tone down the histrionics,” and advised him that she was “bewildered” as to counsel’s questioning, asserting that she found it to be “not that important,” in effect, irrelevant, and that a question posed by counsel was “not very good.”
During one contentious exchange in front of the jury, the trial judge stated that the plaintiff’s counsel had put on a display that was “clearly, clearly fodder for a contempt citation.”
The trial judge stated to the plaintiff’s counsel, in front of the jury, that if counsel were permitted to examine the defendant’s expert witness before trial, he would be “like a leech on a horse.”
The trial judge stated that she was “astonished at the many things” that counsel said during the course of the trial.
Therefore, the New York Supreme Court held, “Under the circumstances of this case, by virtue of the cumulative effect of the improper conduct of the trial justice, the plaintiff was deprived of a fair trial. As a result, the jury could not have considered the issues at trial in a fair, calm, and unprejudiced manner … Accordingly, a new trial against [the medical malpractice defendant doctor] on the issue of liability, before a different Justice, is warranted.”
Your can read the New York Supreme Court’s opinion in its entirety by clicking here.
If you or a loved one were injured as a result of medical malpractice in New York or in another U.S. state, your should seek the advice of a New York medical malpractice attorney or a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may be willing to investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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