Recent Broward Law Blog Features

Saturday, March 7, 2009

After Trial, Judge Calls Government's Star Witnesses 'Consummate Liars'

There is a small piece in Friday’s Daily Business Review that jogged a memory from 35 years ago, and a jog means a blog.

The article comments on a sentencing imposed by an Atlanta U.S. District Court Judge, Thomas W. Thrash, Jr. The defendant was convicted of money laundering, but the court was not impressed with the government witnesses. He called them “consummate liars that perjured themselves repeatedly.” His anger was later evidenced by the remarkable downward departure he gave the defendant in his sentence. Instead of 22 years, the defendant, Adam Shorr, got only five months.

Under our justice system, of course, judges are not allowed to comment on the evidence during trial. Sometimes, as a lawyer, you even have to object when judges lose their neutrality and gesture disapprovingly at witnesses, make disparaging facial expressions, or roll their eyes. Inappropriately, the court is trying to send the jury a message. In fact, once in a murder trial I tried to object that the judge was sleeping through the testimony but he was not awake enough to hear the objection. The prosecutor, Kelley Hancock, argued in reply that I had nothing to worry about, because there was ‘no prejudice, since I had put the jury to sleep as well.’

Anyway, during my last year at Hofstra Law School, I was a very active student in the American Bar Association. I was selected as the national law student representative to the Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities, probably one of the longest titles I will ever have for tasks that were solely pleasurable. The section’s annual convention that year was held in England, where we would spend a week visiting at the Inns of the Court with barristers and solicitors across the pond, as they say, watching trials and drinking large amounts of ale in the pubs.

A great experience I fondly look back upon, but like many things from 35 years ago, can hardly remember enough of. I wish I wrote more about it then so I could review it now. One incident I do recall has to do with judges commenting on what witnesses say. In England, judges have a field day. They can say what they want. During the trial! And while the witness is testifying! Allowed t comment on the evidence, they are. In America, that is mistrial city.

So I will never forget sitting in on a burglary case when a judge looked down acerbically at a purported eyewitnesses, and stated: “You are a lying skunk then, aren’t you? We won’t have the likes of you in my courtroom. Out with you then.”

And he thus summarily dismissed the witness from the stand, telling the jury simultaneously that he was without merit or credibility, and if that was ‘the best the Crown has then it is not much of a case.’ Just can't remember Judge Futch ever doing that.

Anyway, little time to blog yesterday but I have some ideas for a weekend full, starting tomorrow with term limits for state attorneys, not just presidents and legislators. Later.

Today is A Walk With the Animals at Huizenga Park followed by free ice cream cones for your canines at Norm's News on East Las Olas. Come by if you can with your four legged buddy.

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