Appellate Court Reverses Verdict Based On Judge’s Bias And Improper Influence
A California Court of Appeal recently put its foot down and called out Judge Michael Linfield—a current sitting judge on the Los Angeles Superior Court—for his bias and the prejudicial effect of his conduct on the jury in Brown v. The Regents of the University of California.
During jury selection in a discrimination case, Judge Linfield made a presentation expatiating on the history of the civil rights movement and imploring jurors to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice and continue the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. Then, during trial, he allowed Plaintiff to present evidence to the jury of wildly unrelated other examples of discrimination allegations that had no similarity to, or legitimate legal bearing on her case. Finally, after the close of evidence, Judge Linfield allowed Plaintiff to revive a claim that he had already summarily adjudicated in Defendant’s favor. After receiving a runaway jury verdict to the tune of more than $13 million, Defendant appealed.
The Appellate Court found that Judge Linfield’s conduct demonstrated personal bias for the Plaintiff and ultimately had a highly prejudicial effect on the course and outcome of the case, necessitating a reversal of the jury verdict and new trial.
In its opinion, the Appellate Court goes to great lengths to underscore the egregiousness of Judge Linfield’s presentation and its unavoidably prejudicial effect on the jury. Not only does the opinion contain a detailed account of Judge Linfield’s presentation, the Court also attached the complete transcript of his statement to the jury. The transcript is well worth the read for anyone interested in seeing how unfair and biased certain judges and juries can be. Judge Linfield was not simply reciting historical facts and law to the jury. His personal perspectives and experiences clearly serve as the backdrop for his oration. And, to cap off the show, Judge Linfield recited from To Kill a Mockingbird where Atticus Finch tells the jury, at the end of a trial plagued by corruption and discrimination, “a court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men and women who make it up.”
Thankfully, the Court of Appeal concluded that, among other things, Judge Linfield erred by framing the case at the outset in prejudicial terms, allowing the jury to hear misleading commentary. Although this case describes an extraordinary example, Judge Linfield’s conduct is not otherwise unheard of in the superior courts. And, the effects of such conduct on jury members are real. Hopefully, this decision will survive to serve as a deterrent against similar future presentations as well as a guidepost to courts of appeal. It also serves as a good reminder to litigators to exercise their rights to disqualify assigned judges when appropriate.