Forty years ago, I was a young lawyer working for a long-time judge in rural Louisiana. Judge Robert P. Jackson had been a judge for a couple of decades and a prosecutor before that. Judge Jackson had seen it all. But, one day, on a Friday of course, we had a divorce case. A Cuban couple was divorcing. As the Cuban husband testified, his wife’s mother, who only spoke Spanish, made constant facial gestures, sighed over and over, and in general demonstrated clear body language animation that the husband testified falsely. She wanted my judge and all the court staff to know she disagreed with the husband’s testimony.
There was no jury. It was just us, a bailiff, a court reporter and myself, a lowly law clerk, and the Judge. Then as if it could not get worse, there were two witnesses waiting in the back room. A husband and wife were there to testify for the Cuban couple. Along about 2:00 pm, we heard a loud noise in the back room. The bailiff went back there to see what was wrong. It turned out that the two witnesses had argued and one threw water on the other. My Judge was clearly already annoyed that he was still in court on a Friday. He normally was gone by Friday morning fishing or hunting. But, now he was stuck listening to drama kings and queens. Yet, he simply grimaced at the news about the rowdy witnesses.
So, when Donald Trump shakes his head and throws his hands up in reaction to a routine ruling on the evidence from Judge Engoron, I know the judge notices. Judge Engoron may choose for now to say nothing. But, he notices. He makes notes about it. And, when he feels he has no choice, he will take action.
Behaving Badly in Court
There are good reasons why litigants should remain quiet and respectful in court. All judges note your behavior in court. Most make a record a litigant’s conduct. The Judge will build a record for how a party behaves. When enough bad behavior accumulates, the Judge will take some action.
Good order and relative calm hang but by a thread during trial. Emotions always run high. If one party gets away with visible demonstrations, then the other party will respond. Then, it will be “Katy bar the door.” At that point, the Judge has lost control. So, most, perhaps all judges do not let it reach the point that another party will start to react. Here, it helps that the other party is essentially the government. The New York state lawyers will retain their self-control. But, still, Judge Engoro will not let Don Trump continue to demonstrate emotional reactions. This will not last. That is what trials are all about: relatively good behavior until the last day.