The judge’s warning

During former NYPD commish Bernard Kerik’s pre-trial conference today, federal Judge Stephen C. Robinson issued what for him has become the standard warning to lawyers about to go before a jury in his courtroom.

Robinson noted in federal prosecutors’ and defense lawyers’ filings leading up to the trial skedded to start Oct. 13 “there tends to be an edge in some of the writing.”

“This is going to be a hotly contested trial, I’m sure,” he said.

That led Robinson to tell defense lawyer Barry Berke and prosecutors Michael Bosworth and Elliott Jacobson to keep things calm and cordial in front of the jury – or else.

The judge gave them his three-step curative for unruly behavior by lawyers. First, he said, he warns them out of ear shot of the jury. Second, he warns them  “with a rising level of anger.” Then there’s the final step, what amounts to the judicial equivalent of a public flogging.

“I’m going to call you out in front of the jury,” he said.

Robinson’s not fooling around about this stuff. It all stems from the first trial the judge oversaw after becoming a federal judge in late 2003. In December that year, while Robinson was still getting used to the fit of the new black robe, he was assigned the criminal trial of  lawyer Donald Roth and private investigator David St. John, accused of witness tampering. The trial was a raucous two-month affair with Robinson engaging in what seemed like almost daily battles with defense lawyers Bill  Aronwald and Larry Hochheiser, two veteran bulldog attorneys who used to be prosecutors. Ever since that case – Roth and St. John were convicted – Robinson has laid down the law to attorneys appearing for trial before him. He makes it clear that he’s the boss and that the jury will be on his side in any conflict with the attorneys.

“My juries like me,” he said today.

Tim O'Connor

Timothy O'Connor has covered the federal justice system for The Journal News since 2002. He previously worked at newspapers in Orange County, New York, and New Jersey. Born and raised in the Bronx, he has a bachelor's degree in English and a master's in journalism.