By its opinion filed on May 27, 2016, the Supreme Court of Louisiana (“Louisiana Supreme Court”) overturned a defense verdict in a Louisiana medical malpractice case, and ruled that the plaintiffs’ motion for new trial should have been granted, based on the trial judge’s bizarre behavior in front of the jury during the trial which may have implied to the Louisiana medical malpractice jury that the case was not serious.
According to the concurring opinion that cited the plaintiffs’ rendition of the facts, the judge in the Louisiana medical malpractice case engaged in the following inappropriate and bizarre behavior during the trial: he failed to preside over the trial from his position on the bench, but rather roamed around the entirety of the courtroom during much of the trial; he would stop and look out of the windows in the courtroom while plaintiffs’ counsel was examining witnesses; he continuously moved around the courtroom, sitting in various chairs, and, inexplicably, sat in the jury box with the jurors while eating candy – all during witnesses’ testimony; he greeted the defense medical expert, the defendant’s medical partner, with a handshake and embrace in front of the jury; and, he took it upon himself to question plaintiffs’ counsel about the costs paid to the plaintiffs’ medical expert despite neither counsel asking the expert any questions regarding his fees and expenses during the expert’s testimony.
The concurring opinion stated that the trial judge’s “insidious actions of leaving the bench, wandering around the courtroom, looking out the windows, eating candy and otherwise failing to pay attention to the proceedings communicated to the jury in a non-verbal way his opinion that the trial was not serious and could be treated as a joke,” citing La. C.C.P. art. 1791 that provides: “The judge in the presence of the jury shall not comment upon the facts of the case, either by commenting upon or recapitulating the evidence, repeating the testimony of any witness, or giving an opinion as to what has been proved, not proved, or refuted” and further citing La. C.E. art. 614 subsection D that provides: “In a jury trial, the court may not call or examine a witness, except upon the express consent of all parties, which consent shall not be requested within the hearing of the jury.”
The concurring opinion of the Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court stated, “The cumulative effect of [the trial judge’s] behavior and actions can only be viewed as resulting in prejudice to the plaintiffs’ case. Not only were [the trial judge’s] actions a continuous source of distraction for the jury, I find his systematic, intentional and disruptive behavior clearly undermined the seriousness of the court proceedings and the legitimacy of plaintiffs’ case. I find [the trial judge’s] actions are even more disturbing considering this court previously disciplined him twice for his conduct both on and off the bench. Under the facts and circumstances of this case, a new trial must be granted.”
Source Logan v. Schwab, No. 2015-C-1508.
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