Thursday, April 23, 2009

Welcome Back Judge Wattles

CourtWatch is pleased to have Judge Bob Wattles back on the bench after a several month departure for chemotherapy. He does something that I've not seen other judges do in trials - he allows jurors to submit questions (in writing) for a witness to answer before they're excused from the stand. When a question is submitted, the attorneys and the judge confer to determine its legality. If it is, the question is posed.

What a great idea! Sometimes, when the attorneys know their case thouroughly, a question to elicit testimony about a foundational fact may have been overlooked. They just assume that everyone knows this piece of information. On the flip side, in these days of budget cuts, it might be that the attorneys are so swamped with cases, they don't know the facts and therefore don't think to ask the question. In either case, it enhances the trial to allow jurors this privilege.

Jurors only know the case they're deciding. And they want to know all the details so they can render a proper verdict. Being permitted to pose questions also has the benefit of keeping them more engaged in the trial (I saw one juror falling asleep in another courtroom earlier this week - he was replaced with an alternate).

Kudos to Judge Wattles for engaging his jurors in this manner. And welcome back!

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