I've previously written about odd reasons for seeking or granting continuances, including several based on somebody's favorite team being in the playoffs, one based on the fact that deer season was about to start and so it would be hard to seat a jury, and one on the grounds that counsel's dog had just had puppies. But I think this is the first item involving an odd reason for denying a continuance. The situation was made odder by the fact that the judge then dismissed the entire case for failure to prosecute.
This was because he didn't want to catch the flu from a witness.
The case involved drug charges against a juvenile, and a petition by the State to have him declared "delinquent." State in Interest of R.G., 963 So. 2d 475 (La. App. 2007). Under Louisiana law, such petitions have to be resolved within 90 days, although the court can grant more time for good cause. When the case was called for trial, the State asked for a continuance on the grounds that one of its witnesses had the flu, although it said he would come to court if necessary. The trial judge rejected this, saying that if the State was not ready to go he would dismiss the case, which he did. As the Court of Appeals noted, however, there was more to it:
The transcript of the hearing is revealing and leads this Court to draw a different interpretation of what transpired. It is obvious that the trial judge did not solely base his judgment on [the 90-day rule] but also on the fact that he did not want to subject himself to the "flu." [He said:] "And I don't want [the witness] sitting next to me. I wouldn't no more want him sitting next to me with a flu [sic] than I would if he'd been on a heart machine or some other life preserving machine." This is a clear abuse of discretion…. Fear of exposure to the "flu" virus is not cause to dismiss the case.
I thought it might be possible that the flu concern was a pretext for getting rid of the case, which as the Court of Appeals pointed out involved a charge that in Louisiana carries a penalty of up to 30 years at hard labor, which seems awfully harsh for possessing marijuana with intent to distribute. But the trial had been continued several times already, and so if the trial judge just wanted a reason to dismiss the case he could have used this excuse before.
Much more puzzling is that the judge is apparently terrified of heart machines or "other life preserving machines." What does he think he's going to catch from those? Is he worried he'll turn into a Borg?
I knew a guy once who couldn't watch a TV show if he knew one of the actors in it was now dead. It just creeped him out too much. I'm not really sure why that popped into my head in connection with this story, except that it seems to involve a similarly baffling technofear.
Anyway, the Court of Appeals reversed. Whether R.G. is now doing hard labor for selling pot is something I haven't had time to check on.