The Honorable Benjamin Studdard of the Henry County, Georgia, Superior Court recently presided over a Medical Malpractice Case involving a hospital and a doctor whereby the Defendants were accused of Medical Malpractice in a case where a child had a distressed birth and was born blind and quadriplegic.
During deliberations, the Jury in the case sent notes to the Judge and the Judge notified counsel of those notes. One note, however, was sent to the Judge stating that the Jury was deadlocked, and the Judge responded to the Jury to, “Please keep deliberating.” The Judge failed to share this particular note, and his response to the same, with counsel, and further failed to preserve the notes for the record. The Jury ultimately granted a verdict in favor of the Defendants.
The Plaintiff’s Attorneys did, however, find out about the undisclosed note, but not until after the trial ended when one of the jurors reached out to the Plaintiff’s Attorney and said that the jury was deadlocked on the second day of jury deliberations, and the foreman, therefore, sent a note to the Judge advising him of the same, and the Judge wrote back to the Jury stating, “Please continue deliberating.”
The Juror who contacted the Plaintiff’s Attorney was one of two jurors who were holding out and wanted to grant a verdict in favor of the Plaintiff. The Juror stated that she thought that the Judge’s reply meant that the two Jurors who were in disagreement with the majority had no choice but to go along with the majority and rule for the Defendants instead of the Plaintiff.
In light of the new finding from the Juror, the Plaintiff’s Attorneys moved for a new trial with a new Judge arguing that the Judge’s conduct rose to the level of an ethical judicial breach. The Judge denied the Plaintiff’s motion for a new trial. The Judge’s conduct, however, raised the issue of whether or not it was ethical for the Judge to have any ex-parte communication with the Jury without notifying all the Attorneys in the case.
The Court of Appeals held that Studdard’s action violated the state Constitution and ignored decades of legal precedent in criminal cases that a trial judge should not in any manner communicate with a jury about the case in the absence of the accused and his counsel, and further stated that this rule should be no different in civil cases such as the case in point. The panel further stated that Judge Studdard’s ex-parte communications violated the Georgia of Judicial Conduct. Judge Stoddard, however, disagrees and does not think that this action violated the judicial ethics code.
I will continue my discussion of this topic in my blog post titled, “Did your Honor act Unethically in a Medical Malpractice Case in Henry County, Georgia by Failing to Notify Attorneys for all Parties of Communications between the Judge and the Jury? ~ part two.”
At Julie A. Rice, Attorney at Law, & Affiliates, we understand the code of Judicial Ethics and are here to make sure that if you have any type of case that goes to trial, that the case is properly tried. If you or a loved one have been injured or killed, then it is important to Contact Us for your free legal consultation so that you receive the best legal representation that you deserve.