Trials & Litigation
Sunglasses Issue Obscures Case Outcome
Posted Sep 4, 2008 4:54 PM CDT
By Martha Neil
A New Jersey judge's insistence that a respondent should remove his sunglasses in her courtroom has put the outcome of his civil commitment hearing in doubt. Her focus on his shades calls into question her impartiality, requiring another hearing before a different judge, a state appeals court says.
A forensic psychiatrist was testifying about the unnamed defendant, who has a history of violent sex crimes, when Essex County Superior Court Judge Serena Perretti interrupted to ask why he was wearing sunglasses, reports the New Jersey Law Journal, in an article reprinted by New York Lawyer (reg. req.).
The respondent objected to removing the black-tinted shades, saying that they were a medical necessity, and the psychiatrist, after checking his file, agreed that this was so. But Perretti persisted, saying that she found the sunglasses threatening, and the respondent finally took them off.
"The issue of the dark glasses was trivial, it had no relevance to the issue of (the respondent's) continued confinement," the Appellate Division says in a written opinion. "But, it showed the judge's unwillingness to believe (the respondent), even when his statement that he had a medical form was corroborated. It also calls into question the judge's ability to conduct a fair hearing."
The case is In re Civil Commitment of S.B.M., A-2384-07.