Judge fines and jails grandstander

The SE Texas Record Oct. 31, 2009, 11:19am

"Incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial!" That's what District Attorney Hamilton Burger would exclaim whenever Perry Mason resorted to grandstanding legal tactics.

Burger was right, too, and his objections were usually sustained. But Mason had made his point and suffered no consequences for his abuse of courtroom procedure. His inevitable triumphs only seemed to vindicate his stunts.

One wonders how many of today's attorneys were first inspired to enter the legal profession after watching reruns of the Perry Mason show – and how many, consciously or unconsciously, have modeled themselves on the freewheeling, fictional defense counsel.

Mason might not be the best mentor, however. Surely, most judges would agree that the last thing our courts need is grandstanding attorneys.

Though they might agree, how many judges take steps to curtail attorney misbehavior? Do they simply admonish the offender, or do they take action to stop grandstanding?

What would happen if judges routinely held attorneys accountable for questionable tactics employed to score points with jurors? Would that make a difference in their conduct?

Baron and Budd asbestos lawyer John Langdoc of Dallas should be able to answer that question. On Oct. 19, Judge James Lynn of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas held Langdoc in contempt, sentenced him to a week in jail, and fined him $1,000 for grandstanding at a jury trial.

Lynn had admonished Langdoc not to engage in grandstanding, but the plaintiff's attorney evidently didn't take him seriously. He kept on.

"I am committing you to the custody of the sheriff of Philadelphia," Lynn announced.

Defense counsel was so taken aback by the stern reprimand of his rival that he asked the judge to "reconsider the commitment of Mr. Langdoc." Lynn declined.

If there were more judges like James Lynn, maybe plaintiff's and defense attorneys wouldn't be surprised when a grandstander is held in contempt.

Maybe over time there'd be less grandstanding. And maybe jurors could concentrate on the facts and the law and not be distracted by the incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial.

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