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No, You Shut up With Your Flimflam: 6th Cir Slaps Down Rude Judge

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

A federal judge who undermined and insulted defense counsel in front of the jury and provided off-the-cuff, erroneous jury instructions has won the attorney's client a new trial. The Sixth Circuit ruled last week that a judge for the Eastern District of Michigan demonstrated such "outright bias and belittling of counsel" that the defendant was denied an impartial trial.

When counsel for Reginald Daniels, accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm, attempted to show that Daniels had not been in possession of a gun and that police had searched his home without a warrant, he was continuously and repeatedly interrupted by the judge, who accused him of distracting jurors, lying, and needing to "shut up." According to the Sixth Circuit, the judge's behavior was so unfair that Daniels' conviction had to be overturned.

And You Thought Lawyers Were Difficult

Daniels was charged with possessing a firearm as a felon after police allegedly saw him handling the gun through his window. The police completed the search after they were invited in to search his home. 

At trial, Daniels conceded to most of the facts alleged, but he disputed that he was in possession of a gun. He claimed that he never held the gun and that police searched his house without a warrant, without probable cause, and without his permission.

Rather, these are the claims Daniels tried to claim. During the trial, his counsel was repeatedly interrupted, insulted, and shut down by the district court judge overseeing the case. Although the court issued no contempt order against Daniels' attorney, it repeatedly interrupted his questioning of witnesses. That judge, identified as Judge John O'Meara in the ABA Journal, criticized Daniels' lawyer for "this dramatic, high voice, moving around, touching your client."

The judge repeatedly said that the lawyer's questions regarding inconsistencies between the police report and testimony didn't matter and that his arguments were "flimflam." During closing arguments -- closing arguments -- the judge told him to "shut up" and called his insinuation that the police had lied "over the top mendacity."

Obviously, This Was Not a Fair Trial

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit found that the judge's obvious bias and interference prevented Daniels from receiving a fair trial. Further, the Sixth took issue with the judge's use of off-the-cuff jury instructions. When the jury, originally hung, asked for clarification on reasonable doubt, the judge told them that reasonable doubt exists when there is no way at all a reasonable person could convict. That's a much higher standard than reasonable doubt.

The Sixth Circuit, however, declined to reassign the case to a new judge. That means that Daniels will be retried before the same district court judge who botched it the first time. Here's hoping he takes a more judicious approach the second time around.

Editor's Note: The second paragraph has been corrected for the misuse of the word "impartial." 6/18/15

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