July 2, 2008
Umpire, Not Advocate
A brother and sister were involved in a bitter dispute over their father's estate. The sister obtained a court order that prohibited the brother from contacting her except through her representative. The brother was thereafter charged with criminal contempt of the no-contact order.
At the jury trial, the brother took the stand and was closely questioned by the trial judge (30 questions). The defense attorney did not object. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed the conviction, holding that the judge had communicated through his questioning that he did not believe the brother's testimony. The court cautions trial judges to be careful in jury trials to not signal a view of witness credibility and thus influence the verdict. (Mike Frisch)
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