Mistrial Results From Juror’s Desire to Punch Defense Attorney

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I'm tempted to suggest that "does anyone here want to punch me?" might be a good question to ask during voir dire, but that wouldn't do any good if the punching impulse is caused by your actions during trial. That's what allegedly happened during a drug case in Kitsap County, Washington, in July.

Judge Theodore Spearman and defense attorney John Henry Browne sparred repeatedly during the trial of that case, and Spearman eventually fined Browne a total of $1,000 for conduct that allegedly included numerous speaking objections and other "contentious" behavior. The memorandum Browne then filed calling the judge "incompetent" and asking for recusal probably did not lighten the mood any. The judge declined to consider that motion, and also denied Browne's request for a continuance, whereupon Browne said he was no longer going to participate. The prosecutor, likely thinking things were going just fine as far as the State was concerned, suggested that Browne should be held in contempt if he would not continue. The judge called a recess to consider what to do.

During that recess, though, the bailiff overheard one of the jurors express a desire to "punch that defense attorney in the nose," a statement that violated the ban on discussing the case outside the courtroom. That seems to have been the last straw for the judge, who declared a mistrial.

Prosecutors said they would ask that Browne be ordered to pay the costs of the retrial, since his behavior caused it. They said they did not believe Spearman had any competency issues, although Browne stuck to his guns. "I do believe that the legal community in Kitsap County knows he has cognitive deficits," Browne said.

He'll get another chance to gather evidence on that, because the judge is apparently planning to hold a disciplinary hearing concerning the case. That had been set July 27, but the judge recently decided to postpone that until after the underlying case is retried, which is now set for August 30. It isn't clear whether Browne is still representing the defendant in that case, but if he is, I'd go ahead and start camping out for tickets now.