Excessive Intervention and Improper Conduct by Trial Judge Required New Trial
In a medical malpractice case, the Second Department determined plaintiff was deprived of a fair trial by the trial judge’s excessive intervention and improper conduct:
“[A]ll litigants, regardless of the merits of their case, are entitled to a fair trial” . A trial justice plays a “vital role in clarifying confusing testimony and facilitating the orderly and expeditious progress of the trial,” but that “power is one that should be exercised sparingly” … . Accordingly, a trial justice may not ” so far inject himself [or herself] into the proceedings that the jury could not review the case in the calm and untrammelled spirit necessary to effect justice'” … .
A trial justice must maintain an atmosphere of impartiality. Here, while the plaintiff’s counsel may have been overly aggressive, and at times even antagonized the trial justice, nonetheless, a trial justice should ” at all times maintain an impartial attitude and exercise a high degree of patience and forebearance'” … . Indeed, our review of the record convinces us that the repeated conflict between the court and the plaintiff’s counsel, at all phases of the trial===and often times in the presence of the jury—unnecessarily injected personality issues into the case, which militated against a fair trial. The trial justice demonstrated a propensity to interrupt, patronize, and admonish the plaintiff’s counsel, and gave the plaintiff’s counsel significantly less leeway with regard to examination and cross-examination of witnesses than that which was afforded the defendants’ counsel. Porcelli v Northern Westchester Hosp Ctr, 2013 NY Slip Op 06354, 2nd Dept 10-2-13