Friday, October 02, 2015

People v. Poletti (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 1, 2015)

When you're an attorney, and you're in court, you have to control your anger, and not be disrespectful to the judge.

Especially when you're a prosecutor.

That's a lesson that Santa Cruz ADA Ross Taylor apparently didn't learn very well.  Though both the trial court and the Court of Appeal remind him of that duty after the fact.  The trial court held him in contempt.  The Court of Appeal refers to him by name in a published opinion and refers him to the State Bar.

What Mr. Taylor did was fairly straightforward.  He didn't like the judge's rulings, and repeatedly let that fact be amply demonstrated.  Here's the exchange that got ADA Taylor found in contempt:

“THE COURT: Mr. Taylor, your obvious disdain for selected rulings of the Court is totally unprofessional. The way you push back, and it's been almost from the very beginning of the case. And, you know--
“MR. TAYLOR: Are you serious?
“THE COURT: Yes, I am totally serious. It's not a good time to engage me in argument about it--
“MR. TAYLOR: Ya, well, you know--
“THE COURT: Mr. Taylor, because I'm not going to listen to you. And you are increasing my ire--
“MR. TAYLOR: I'm not interested in what you have to say. I don't know if I could be any less interested. Some of the rulings that you've made are just outrageous, Your Honor. . . .”

As an aside:  Saying "Are you serious?" to a judge is pretty much never a good idea.  I struggle to come up with an example of where this would be the right response to something the person behind the bench says.

ADA Taylor did some additional interesting stuff with respect to a witness, and engaged in some other deeply troubling conduct with respect to his Brady obligations.  But it was his attitude that raised the ire of the trial court and the Court of Appeal.  Here's how the Court of Appeal describes a portion of his conduct:

"In addition to his offensive statements to the court outside the presence of the jury (“I'm not interested in what you have to say. I don't know if I could be any less interested.”), prosecutor Taylor exhibited rudeness while jurors were present. We begin with just four of numerous examples that illustrate prosecutor Taylor's behavior at trial. First, after the court overruled Taylor's objection that a question posed by defense counsel had been asked and answered, Taylor quipped: “So the different answer than she just answered for the same question?” Second, Taylor openly disagreed with a ruling sustaining a defense objection, asserting that his line of questioning “frankly [was] proper.” Third, when the court instructed Taylor to “[s]top editorializing,” Taylor retorted that he was “[h]ardly editorializing.” Fourth, when the trial court sustained one of defense counsel's relevancy objections, Taylor responded “I'm not sure that it's irrelevant.” These were not isolated incidents, as evidenced by the trial court's statements. When the court reprimanded Taylor outside the presence of the jury, it commented “[a]bout 80 percent of my evidentiary objections you want to argue in the presence of the jury about the appropriateness of my ruling. Stop it.” And, the court described Taylor's inappropriate remarks during the hearing on his citation for contempt as “the culmination of a continuum of insolent and inappropriate behavior by [the prosecutor] that occurred throughout the trial.”

Not good.

I understand that people who go to law school and become lawyers are often not exactly known for their placid temperament.  I also understand that prosecutors sometimes are profoundly convinced that the person they're prosecuting is guilty, and deserves punishment, and hence are frustrated when various decision by the judge don't go their way.  (Ditto, on the other side, for defense counsel.)

But you've got to calm down.  Take a deep breath.  Trust the system.

Including your participating in it as an officer of the court.