In a unanimous ruling, issued yesterday and reported on the front page of today’s New York Law Journal, the Appellate Division unanimously revered the conviction of a carjacker who had been sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison because of repeated, improper comments made to a criminal defense lawyer in front of the jury. Judge Neary, who spent 28 years as a Westchester County Assistant District Attorney before becoming a judge was recently transferred from Westchester to the Bronx Court. The case in question stemmed from a trial in the Bronx.
Judge Neary, according to the Appellate Court decision referred to the defense attorney’s line of questioning at one point in the trial as “silly” and “irrelevant”. During summation, Judge Neary at one point told the defense attorney “you are turning this into a comedy and its not.”
“Most egregiously, however, when defense counsel objected during the People’s summation, the court did not merely overrule the objection, but stated: ‘Would you please behave like a professional, please and not like a clown.’ “People v. Leggett, 2869 3401/07, NYLJ 1202472024104 at 4 (App. Div. 1st, Decided September 14, 2010).
It is obviously very hard to win a trial before a jury when the supposedly neutral judge is telling the jury that your questions are irrelevant and that you are acting like a clown. The Appellate Court recognized that this conduct by the judge deprived the defendant of a fair trial.
The Appellate Division ordered that the defendant be given a new trial before a different Judge.