Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Scott Silverman declared a mistrial in a civil fraud case Wednesday after being informed a witness on the stand in his courtroom had engaged in text-messaging while the judge spoke with attorneys during a sidebar conference. The dispute is over the sale of condo tower in North Miami Beach.
A trial rule prohibits a witness on a stand to communicate with anyone about his/her testimony during the trial. In this case, the witness, namely Sky Development chief operating officer Gavin Sussman, texted while on the witness stand when the judge and attorneys were in conference. After judge Silverman confirmed Mr. Sussman’s behavior, he said:
Let me be really frank about this, I never had this happen before. This is completely outrageous, absolutely outrageous.
Judge Silverman continued:
You are communicating about the case and the subject matter of the case with a witness who is currently under oath and before the jury. Texting in this manner is no different than being wired and having someone talk in your ear. It was a fraud on the justice system. This case in my view is an intentional interference with the judicial process, and an act like that infringes on the ability of the court and the judicial system to operate fairly and impartially.
Judge Silverman declared a mistrial and suggested a careful review of what behavior is and what is not permitted in a courtroom with respect to mobile phones.