In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Read, the Court of Appeals determined the trial judge’s participation in the readbacks of testimony requested by the jury did not amount to a mode of proceedings error.
…[T]he two jury notes — requests for readbacks of two witnesses’ testimony — were disclosed in their entirety in open court before the trial judge responded to them. And the judge explained exactly how he was going to conduct the readbacks. If defense counsel considered the judge’s intended approach prejudicial, he certainly had an opportunity to ask him to alter course, and it behooved him to do so… . * * *
…[W]e agree with the [2nd] Department that, as a general matter, a trial judge should shun engaging in readbacks of testimony. In the usual case, it is easy enough for a judge to assign this task to non-judicial court personnel and thereby avoid any risk of creating a misperception in the minds of the jurors.
In a case where a trial judge nonetheless elects to participate in a readback (certainly, nothing in CPL 310.30 prohibits it), any error is not of the mode of proceedings variety. “Not every procedural misstep in a criminal case is a mode of proceedings error”; rather, this narrow exception to the preservation rule is “reserved for the most fundamental flaws,” such as shifting the burden of proof from prosecution to the defense, or delegating a trial judge’s function to a law secretary… . People v Alcide, 143, CtApp 10-10-13