New Chopra trial granted because of judge's comments


San Diego Union-Tribune, March 16, 2000
By Anne Krueger

But appellate justice urges 2 sides to settle An appellate court justice ruled yesterday that comments by a Superior Court judge in a civil trial involving New Age author and lecturer Deepak Chopra were so demeaning to Chopra's lawyers that he is entitled to a new trial. Richard Huffman of the 4th District Court of Appeal said the comments by Superior Court Judge Thomas Murphy were biased and unfair, affecting the jury's impression of the evidence in the case.

"Judge Murphy, for whatever reason, was so irritated with one side of the case that he demeaned that side of the case in front of the jury," said Huffman, who took over Chopra's case after Murphy removed himself from hearing it.

Lawyers are set to return to court April 11, although Huffman urged them to try to reach a settlement to avoid "spending another two or three fun-filled weeks together."

Huffman's ruling is the latest chapter in a long-running legal saga involving Chopra and Joyce Weaver, a woman who once worked with Chopra at the Sharp Center for Mind-Body Medicine, an institute for alternative medicine associated with Chopra.

Chopra contended in his lawsuit against Weaver that she tried to blackmail him for $50,000 not to reveal a prostitute's allegations that the prostitute had sex with Chopra. Chopra has denied any involvement with a prostitute. Weaver, in turn, contended in a lawsuit against Chopra that she was sexually harassed and that Chopra retaliated against her when she complained about it.

Chopra's lawsuit against Weaver, which was tried before Murphy, went to trial first. The jurors unanimously found in Weaver's favor.

The same jury was then supposed to hear Weaver's case against Chopra, but Murphy removed himself from the case, saying he had made a "gratuitous, unnecessary comment" about Carla DiMare, one of Chopra's lawyers. Huffman took over the case and a second jury -- after just 10 minutes of deliberations -- rejected Weaver's suit.

In granting DiMare's request for a new trial, Huffman noted several comments made by Murphy about DiMare during the trial. In particular, he pointed to a comment in which Murphy said, "Of course, all the questions asked by Ms. DiMare were irrelevant," referring to DiMare's questioning of Weaver on the witness stand.

Huffman said that if Murphy felt that way he should have upheld objections to the questions by Weaver's attorneys.

"That's a terrible comment to make in front of the jury," Huffman said. DiMare also pointed to an incident in which she asked to play a tape-recorded interview that she said would contradict Weaver's testimony. DiMare said she asked Murphy, "Can I play a tape?" and he responded, "Of what? The Bee Gees?"

Huffman said Murphy should have simply refused DiMare's request and talked to the attorneys without the jury present instead of making a demeaning comment in front of the panel.

Weaver's attorney, Terry Price, told Huffman that Murphy responded coolly and calmly throughout the trial, even when faced with personal attacks by DiMare, which Price called "the grossest judge-baiting I've ever observed." Price noted that Superior Court Judge Judith McConnell, who previously had been assigned the case, had to remove herself after she became frustrated with Chopra's lawyers.

Another Superior Court judge, John Einhorn, also removed himself from the case after he was challenged by Chopra's lawyers.

Price said DiMare repeatedly asked questions of witnesses on topics that Murphy had ruled could not be brought up in court. In one conversation outside the presence of the jury, Murphy criticized DiMare's "ineptitude" in questioning witnesses, Price said.

"At some point, a judge has to do what Judge Murphy did," Price said.


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