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Costumed Jurors No Reason for Reversal

It was a decision that could have haunted the trial judge for years, had the appeal turned out differently. As the complicated civil trial in Massachusetts Superior Court dragged on into late October, the jurors asked the judge if he would allow them to wear costumes on Halloween. After consulting with counsel for all parties and hearing no objection, the judge allowed their request. On appeal, the defendants argued that the presence of jurors in costumes turned the trial into a circus and denied them due process. In an opinion issued this week (Zabin v. Picciotto), the Massachusetts Appeals Court delivered the defendants a trick rather than the treat they'd hoped to receive.

With or without the consent of counsel to the parties, it is regrettable that the trial judge agreed to the jurors' request. The introduction of Halloween costumes cannot but have detracted from the seriousness and gravity of formal court proceedings. However, as to the defendants' claim of a due process violation, the judge did not merely accommodate the jurors' request; he consulted with counsel for all parties before doing so, and all counsel agreed. The issue is waived.

That wasn't the whole of it. At one point, plaintiffs' counsel handed out candy to the costumed jurors. Later, a proposed "cast list" was circulated for a Hollywood movie version of the trial. Neither of these provided grounds for reversal, the Appeals Court said. "The record reveals no objection to counsel to any party handing out candy to the jurors or any indication that the 'cast list' was circulated to the jury." Here, indeed, victory was sweet.

[Hat tip to The Docket.]

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on November 19, 2008 at 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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