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The post below was published on Monday, September 20th, 2010 at 9:23 AM.

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Fifth District: Rebuking The Active Judge

This opinion really caught my eye.

During a jury trial on damages against defaulted, absent defendants, the trial court sustained its own objections to hearsay evidence offered by the plaintiffs. When the court determined that the plaintiffs’ only witnesses were themselves and that they were relying on inadmissible hearsay, the court dismissed their claims without prejudice. The limitations period had expired.

Not surprisingly, the plaintiffs appealed. The Fifth District reversed.

More in the way of a surprise was the district court’s discussion. The operative portion states:

In this case, it was improper for the trial court to interject itself into the trial below by making evidentiary objections during the course of Ramos and Murphy’s case-in-chief, and to thereafter determine that the evidence of damages was insufficient to support the entry of a damage award. Accordingly, the trial court’s dismissal order is reversed and this matter remanded with instructions that a new trial be held before a different judge on the issue of damages. See generally Spencer v. State, 615 So.2d 688 (Fla. 1993) (holding that trial judge’s sua sponte excusal of jurors for allegedly having low IQ’s was reversible error in prosecution for first-degree murder).

Most intriguing is the court’s declaration that the trial court improperly interjected itself by making evidentiary objections during the plaintiffs’ case. Is the district court holding that trial courts cannot block the admission of inadmissible evidence when only the plaintiff is present at trial?

Next, note that the court’s only citation to authority is a case involving a trial court that struck prospective jurors on its own motion. Is that the closest the prior case law comes to this situation?

Finally, it bears pointing out that the district court ordered the case transferred to a new judge. Appellate folks might want to tuck that nugget away for future use.

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