West Virginia Record

Monday, July 15, 2019

Phila. judge declares mistrial after lawyer repeats offense

By Steve Korris | Nov 5, 2009

PHILADELPHIA –- Two days after a Philadelphia judge punished a Texas attorney for grandstanding, the lawyer pulled another stunt and the judge declared a mistrial.

When Judge James Lynn of the Court of Common Pleas saw what John Langdoc of Baron & Budd flashed at jurors in closing argument against instrument maker Honeywell on Oct. 21, he called it "sleazy" and "cheesy."

"Mr. Langdoc, you are a disgrace to the profession in my opinion," Lynn said.

"It's not the first time such behavior has happened by this attorney who is not even a Pennsylvania lawyer, to come in here and behave this way," he said.

Lynn apologized to jurors and said, "So much has gone on behind closed doors that you weren't aware of because you couldn't be aware of certain things."

He apologized to Honeywell and the plaintiffs.

He told Langdoc, "You are not doing yourself proud in this case and you didn't do any good service to the Smutny family either.

"I want them to know it and of course they know it, because they are here right now," he said.

Lynn had granted a mistrial motion on Oct. 19, but reconsidered minutes later because he felt he had to salvage the trial.

In the first episode, as Honeywell questioned Langdoc's expert about his fee, Langdoc composed a table of fees that defense experts charged.

On redirect examination, Langdoc displayed the table and asked his expert about it.

"Take it down," Lynn said, and he sent the jury away.

He said to Langdoc, "You just threw this up here as a shot, right?"

Langdoc said yes, and Lynn fined him $1,000 for contempt.

"That is outrageous conduct, sir," Lynn said.

He declared a mistrial but changed his mind and ruled that he must salvage the trial. He sentenced Langdoc to a week in prison and sent him away with the sheriff, though no one confirmed that Langdoc served the sentence.

In closing arguments Langdoc started:

"I have one island of hope in my absolute lack of faith in our system," he said.

"I know that justice is not fast, it's not swift, it's not fair, it's not blind.

"It hasn't been in this courtroom.

"But the one thing that I know that I have left is that it's regular people that are going to decide this and that's the one last thing that I believe in.

"I am broken as a lawyer."

He pointed above Lynn to a flag and told jurors, "It says that we are not going to trust one person with absolute power."

"I know you know what the truth is," Langdoc said.

He read the first question they would answer: "Have the Smutnys proven that exposure to asbestos caused Mr. Smutny's mesothelioma?"

"Please check yes," and he marked the yes line of the jury form.

He read the next question: "Did you find that plaintiff has proven that mesothelioma caused Mr. Smutny's death?"

He said, "Please check yes," and he marked the yes line.

Then he reached the bottom line: "State the amount of damages, if any, to fairly and adequately compensate the family."

In a wrongful death action in Texas or almost anywhere else he could have proposed an amount at that moment, but not in Pennsylvania.

He said he couldn't tell jurors how much money, and he added that he could remind them how long the family suffered.

He wrote, "5.3 M" on the verdict form.

Jurors saw it but Lynn didn't.

"Objection," Kevin Hexstall of Philadelphia hollered for Honeywell.

Lawyers crowded around Lynn, and Hexstall muttered that Langdoc inferred that 10.1 lost years equaled 5.3 million minutes.

Lynn said, "I can't see what you're talking about because it's blocked."

When Lynn saw it he said, "That is improper, sir."

He said, "Five point three M, it seems to me, exactly five point three M."

He said if he saw it on a verdict form he would think it was $5.3 million.

"Now I have to figure out what to do next," he said.

"Sleazy is what it is," he said.

Hexstall moved for a mistrial.

Lynn asked Langdoc, "Why don't do you do it straight?"

"You can sit there and tell a story and paint a picture about time and every second of what her day, of what her life is going to be the next ten years," Lynn said.

"But to do the cheesy thing you just did by putting it aside the wrongful death on the very line, on the exact line, appears to be a number as if you were writing the very number."

He said it was unfair to everybody and he felt terrible from the bottom of his stomach.

"I don't know if that's the way you do it wherever you come from but you don't do things like that here," he said.

He excused the jury and told Hexstall to argue his mistrial motion.

Hexstall told Lynn that counsel asked Langdoc ahead of time if he planned to repeat a tactic from another trial counting millions of breaths.

Hexstall told Lynn that Langdoc said he wouldn't say anything about a breath.

Hexstall told Lynn he couldn't cure the 5.3 M by telling jurors to disregard it, and he moved for a mistrial with prejudice.

Langdoc said Tom Bernier, representing Garlock Sealing, asked him about breaths.

He said he told Bernier, "I don't think I'm in a good position with this court."

Lynn said, "You what?"

Langdoc said, "I don't think that I'm in a good position with this court and I am not going to waver outside of one letter of the law."

Langdoc said he told Bernier he would use minutes.

Lynn said, "Did you tell him you were going to draw something on the board?"

Langdoc said he did not.

Hexstall said, "I had no information of five point three million dollars being written next to wrongful death."

Langdoc said, "It does not say five point three million dollars."

After a short recess, Lynn declared a mistrial.

"I have personally never seen anyone do this and neither has my staff, and we have been here a while," he said.

"I have seen lots and lots of people and lots and lots of cases in my nearly 40 years as a lawyer and as a judge, 36 to be exact plus three in law school, 39," he said.

"I am telling you this is just wrong. I will leave it at that," he said.

"Bring in the jury so I can explain to them how their time has been wasted," he said.

He told them he declared a mistrial that had to do with a document they saw.

He said he believed he had to do it because of counsel's inappropriate behavior.

He thanked them and told them they started with five cases and three were resolved as a result of their presence.

"Believe me, a lot of work was done," he said.

"Unfortunately, we couldn't finish," he said.

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