There is some prevailing wisdom out there that holds if one side or the other objects a lot at trial, that side will appear as though they are trying to hide something, therefore causing a loss in credibility with jurors. We can certainly empathize with this question, as it’s one our clients are often asking us here at Litigation Insights. That being said, this article will address this debate and dispel the myths that come with objections at trial.
Who Really Decides Whether Objections Are Appropriate?
The answer is: the judge.
We have our own prevailing wisdom: every trial is a bench trial. By that we mean judicial rulings – and judicial demeanor – have a huge effect on the tone and scope of the trial and, more importantly, on jurors’ reactions to what happens during the trial.
Jurors typically align themselves with the judge at trial, and that makes sense. The judge is the one who (in their view) is impartial and is also the one who looks after them. Jurors often play off the judge’s reaction to the sides. So, watch and read your judge. If he/she is not ruling favorably regarding your objections, you may need to reevaluate your strategy.
Sometimes Making Many Objections in Court Is an Asset
I once sat through a complicated, intense, four-month-long trial that arose out of a construction dispute. There was one plaintiff and four defendants, and the defendants’ strategy revolved around aggressively moving to keep out potentially damaging testimony. Sidebars were lengthy and frequent. I expected to see jurors getting exasperated with the delays and irritated with the side that initiated those delays.
The judge, however, had infinite patience for the objections themselves and for the endless sidebars the objections at trial generated. So, instead of being irritated or suspicious, the jurors seemed to welcome the sidebars as a break from the tedium, a time to stand up and stretch and to socialize with their fellow jurors. The defense kept out of evidence volumes of potentially damaging facts and testimony and eventually prevailed at trial.
So, for the answer to our original question about whether jurors will hold the frequency of your objections against you, first look to the bench to see if its occupant is holding it against you. Therein you will likely find your answer.
By: Robert Gerchen, Senior Consultant