In a recent federal jury trial, Odelson & Sterk partners, Mark Sterk and Michael Hayes Jr., achieved a victory in an unusual manner for Village of Lyons Police Officer Nathan O’Connor. Following the pre-trial dismissal of other claims and parties, the jury trial began on plaintiff’s remaining claim that Officer O’Conner used excessive force during an arrest. Although Officer O’Connor admitted using force, including a Taser, in arresting plaintiff, the defense asserted at trial that the force used was reasonable and necessary under the circumstances in response to plaintiff’s failure to leave an ex-girlfriend’s apartment, his resistance to arrest and battery to the arresting officers.
Following the start of trial, plaintiff became agitated and theatrical in the presence of the jury. Throughout plaintiff’s direct testimony and cross-examination, the court sustained countless objections from defense counsel concerning plaintiff’s non-responsive answers and gestures. In response to the multiple objections and delays caused by plaintiff’s behavior, the court stopped the trial on several occasions to admonish plaintiff’s counsel about the possible consequences of plaintiff’s continued inappropriate behavior.
However, plaintiff became even more agitated as the trial progressed and the court continued to admit defendant’s trial exhibits, including a record of all of plaintiff’s prior criminal convictions.
Plaintiff became even more agitated during the second day of trial while listening to testimony from Officer O’Connor and co-arresting Officer Studlow contradicting plaintiff’s version of the arrest. Following the end of testimony that day, plaintiff threatened Officer Studlow outside of the courtroom. Defense counsel immediately alerted the judge of the threat and the court began a Rule to Show Cause hearing to investigate the charge and determine whether plaintiff should be sanctioned. The hearing included testimony from three witnesses, including two court employees not involved with the trial, describing what they observed and heard outside of the courtroom. The court found that plaintiff did threaten Officer Studlow. Considering the threat and plaintiff’s behavior during the trial as a whole, the court ruled that plaintiff’s actions deprived defendant of a fair trial and warranted the ultimate sanction of dismissal of the lawsuit. As a result of the dismissal, the court also ordered plaintiff to pay certain defense costs.
Mid-trial dismissals are difficult to achieve, and those obtained as a result of sanctions against a plaintiff for conduct during the trial are extremely rare. The judge remarked to the parties following the dismissal that this was the first time in his long career that he had been involved in or heard of such a case.