Defamation Trial Heats Up in City Hall

Things are heating up over at a hearing today for Councilman Jack Kelly's defamation lawsuit against Paul Corbett, who he has accused of distributing fliers that damaged his 2007 re-election campaign.

Earlier this morning, Judge Albert Snite Jr. blew up at Corbett’s attorney C. Scott Shields after Shields tried to define the laws surrounding defamation during his opening remarks. Snite – who took issue with Shields’ definition and repeatedly tried to silence him from reading from the state's constitution­-- halted proceedings and let out the jury, saying he wanted a sheriff’s deputy to take Shields into custody.

“I don’t care what you want to do. Be quiet. And stop smiling about this. You don’t think I’m serious,” Snite said to Shields.

Snite the stormed out of the courtroom, saying he would not continue until a deputy sheriff was present to take Shields into custody.  Corbett reacted to the courtroom outburst by asking his lawyer: “Do I have time for a smoke?”

The situation calmed down soon after and Shields was not taken into custody.

UPDATE, 12:15 pm:  Snite came back into court after about 15 minutes. Shields asked the judge to recuse himself from the case and declare a mistrial.  Snite sternly denied both motions. "I'm doing my job to try to make sure some lawyer does not misstate the law to the jury," Snite told Shields. "For that, I'm not going to apologize."

Shields resumed his opening statement, with the judge interrupting once more when the attorney sounded as if he was about to explain a law to the jury.  The jury was set out for lunch after opening arguments and Shields once again asked for a mistrial and for the judge to recuse himself. Snite again denied both but this time he was smiling.

"I've never been told in an opening argument that I'm not allowed to read from the constitution, as if the constitution has no place in the courtroom," Shields said after the judge departed.

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