APPEALS/NEW TRIAL- The recent decision in Logan v. Schwab, Jr., 15-C-1508 (La. 5/27/16), ______ So. 3d _______ addressed serious concerns about the conduct of a trial judge during trial. On appeal, this conduct, described as “bizarre and disturbing,” was sufficient to cause the need for a new trial.
The Logan plaintiff alleged damages as a result of a gallbladder removal surgery. The jury verdict was in favor of the surgeon, and the plaintiff appealed. The cited grounds for appeal included alleged improper conduct by the trial judge which may have biased the jury in favor of the defendant and caused juror confusion. Finding insufficient support in the record and a lack of contemporaneous objections, the First Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the defense verdict.
While questions were raised as to the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s proof, the plaintiff alleged that the trial judge’s improper conduct involved: warmly greeting and embracing the defendant’s expert witness in the presence of the jury; questioning the plaintiff’s medical expert regarding the amount of fees he was being paid (after he was released as a witness); walking around the courtroom while witnesses were being examined; and, looking out windows and sitting in various seats throughout the courtroom. Allegedly, the trial judge even sat amongst the jurors in the jury box and ate candy–while testimony was being given. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal ruled that this “inappropriate and untoward” conduct was insufficient to deprive the plaintiff of a fair trial.
The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed in a three sentence per curiam opinion. The Court ordered a new trial, finding that “the trial judge’s actions resulted in a miscarriage of justice.”