“Insidious” Actions of Judge Result in New Trial

A sharply divided Louisiana Supreme Court granted a new trial after a defense verdict in a medical malpractice action. According to the court, the trial judge’s actions resulted in “a miscarriage of justice.” See Logan v. Scwab, No. 2015-C-1508 (La. May 27, 2016) (4-3 decision). Although the majority opinion is short on facts, Chief Justice Johnson’s concurrence notes that the judge presiding over the matter, Houma district judge Timothy C. Ellender, engaged in the:

insidious actions of leaving the bench, wandering around the courtroom, looking out the windows, eating candy and otherwise failing to pay attention to the proceedings . . . .

In so doing,  Judge Ellender “communicated to the jury in a non-verbal way his opinion that the trial was not serious and could be treated as a joke.” Id. (Johnson, C.J., concurring).

Notably, the court had previously suspended judge Judge Ellender for appearing in public at a Halloween party wearing an afro wig, black face makeup, and a prison jumpsuit. Justice Crichton, in dissent, noted: “I fear that this judge’s institutional history of untoward behavior has perhaps influenced the majority’s decision today, which should instead be focused on the evidence presented in this record in this case.”). Id. (Crichton, J., dissenting).

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