ORLANDO, Fla (Reuters) - Accusing the two lead lawyers in the Casey Anthony murder case of unrelenting gamesmanship, Chief Judge Belvin Perry threatened a stepped-up work schedule with “fierce days” as the trial began its fifth week.
Apparently exasperated Monday morning after extended discussions at the bench and in his chambers, the judge finally called a recess until Tuesday morning. No witness was called, and the jury had never entered the court.
“Enough is enough,” the judge said. “Both sides need to be forewarned. I may have to consider exclusion of testimony, even at the price of having to do this all over. It may be the proper remedy if this continues.”
Casey, 25, is accused by the prosecution of using duct tape to strangle her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, on June 16, 2008, then storing her body in the trunk of a car.
As soon as court opened at 9 a.m. Monday, prosecutor Jeff Ashton and lead defense counsel Jose Baez were battling, accusing each other of delaying tactics while defending their own actions.
“If you two don’t want to be professional, I’ll start working you a real, full day, with short lunch hours. I have a sequestered jury to worry about,” Perry told the lawyers.
“Look at the clock and tell me what time it is,” he ordered. Ashton said: “9:25.” Baez said: “9:26.”
The judge shook his head, saying “That proves you two will never agree. Plan to work a full day on (next) Saturday.”
Saturday sessions have been running half days.
Casey Anthony’s defense attorneys maintain her daughter Caylee accidentally drowned in the Anthony family’s backyard pool, and no one reported her death.
The child’s skeletal remains were found in woods near the Anthony family’s home in the Orlando area on December 11, 2008, following a nationwide search.
Monday marked the first day of the high-profile trial’s fifth week. During the fourth week the prosecutors had concluded their presentation and the defense team began making its case.
Last Saturday, Judge Perry had warned attorneys the trial was not moving along quickly enough and threatened to extend each work day by an extra hour.
On Monday he made good on his threat by saying he was extending Saturday to a full day, and warning that he might have to exclude evidence if the games didn’t stop.
Exclusion is an extreme sanction that can ultimately lead to an appeals court or the state Supreme Court throwing out the results of a trial and calling for a re-trial.
“I’m not surprised that Judge Perry has lost patience,” said Robert Buonauro, a criminal trial lawyer who has practiced in Orlando for more than 20 years.
“The judge is a real no-nonsense guy, but he’s also pretty cool. They must have pushed him to the limit.”
Buonauro also said if the judge does exclude evidence, the defense might move for a mistrial.
Perry reminded both teams on Monday of the request he issued before the trial began, asking that each expert witness send a report that stated all opinions they were planning to give.
The reports would give both sides a clear view of the planned testimony of each witness, and avoid surprises during the trial. Perry said those rules had been violated by both sides, and he wanted it to stop.
The recess will give the prosecution time to review a defense witness deposition taken during the weekend, and allow both teams enough time to review their reports and depositions to see that all opinions are mentioned.
Spectators who had waited in line Saturday for Monday’s seat passes grumbled while they headed to the elevator. Court administrators said there would be no rain checks.
Editing by Jerry Norton