Judge’s ‘Bizarre’ Behavior Leads to New Trial

     (CN) – A Louisiana judge accused of wandering around the courtroom and eating candy in the jury box denied a couple’s right to a fair trial, the state’s highest court ruled 4-3.
     In an unsigned opinion, the Louisiana Supreme Court granted a new trial to Richard and Carrie Logan for their medical malpractice claims against Dr. Donald Schwab Jr., ruling that they were the victims of a “miscarriage of justice.”
     Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson wrote a concurring opinion “to emphasize the unprofessional and inappropriate nature of the trial judge in this case.” He called the judge’s conduct “bizarre and disturbing.”
     The Logans complained that Judge Timothy C. Ellender roamed around the courtroom during the trial and looked out the window. He also snacked on candy in the jury box while witnesses were testifying, according to the Logans.
     Johnson also cited the Logans’ “uncontroverted testimony” that Ellender greeted the defense’s medical expert with a handshake and a hug in front of the jury.
     Johnson called Ellender’s alleged behavior “insidious” and stated that it “communicated to the jury in a non-verbal way his opinion that the trial was not serious and could be treated as a joke.”
     In addition, Johnson noted that the Louisiana Supreme Court had previously disciplined Ellender twice “for his conduct both on and off the bench.”
     In the first instance, Ellender was suspended for six months in 2004 after appearing in public at a Halloween party wearing blackface, an Afro wig and a prison jumpsuit, according to court records.
     In 2009, Ellender was also reportedly suspended for 30 days for acting in a “condescending and demeaning manner” towards a woman who was seeking protection from domestic abuse.
     Justice John L. Weimer dissented from his colleagues, stating that “we cannot and should not simply assume that these allegations are accurate.” He also noted that the Logans did not object to Ellender’s behavior during the trial.
     “A party should not be entitled to stash an objection in his back pocket and sit on it, only to pull it out after an adverse judgment,” Weimer wrote.
     Justice Marcus R. Clark also dissented, stating that he found “proof of those allegations to be lacking, certainly below that which we should require in order to overturn a jury verdict.”
     In addition, Justice Scott J. Crichton dissented, stating that Ellender’s alleged behavior is not noted in the trial record.
     “Counsel for both parties conceded that they personally did not witness much of the alleged behavior, as it was ‘behind’ them in a large courtroom,” he wrote.

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