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Orlando Sentinel – Casey Anthony: Judge Perry faces tough choices as Ashton, Baez tangle over witnesses

Posted by 4love2love on June 23, 2011

By Anthony Colarossi and Amy Pavuk, Orlando Sentinel8:36 p.m. EDT, June 20, 2011

What is a judge with the eyes of an entire nation on him to do?

Chief Judge Belvin Perry has faced repeated, apparent violations of his court orders by Casey Anthony defense attorney José Baez. At the same time, Perry’s job is to ensure the woman’s fair trial rights are preserved.

So Perry made it clear Monday that Baez could face a contempt finding for allegedly flouting the judge’s orders again by failing to disclose expert-witness opinions to the prosecution.
Meanwhile, he gave the prosecution the opportunity to prepare for two defense witnesses, experts whose opinions were almost inexplicably withheld from the prosecution until just before they were about to testify.

“Yes, there has been gamesmanship in this particular case,” Perry said before Monday’s court session was cut short. “It is quite evident there is a friction between attorneys. That is something I guess that the Florida Bar will deal with. And at the conclusion of this trial, this court will deal with violations which may or may not have occurred. But it is not proper for the court to deal with it now.”

Legal scholars and court observers said Perry has tread carefully through the legal minefield set before him with an acute awareness that no one wants to see this incredibly expensive and high-profile case tried again.

“Quite high in the consideration of the judge has to be the right to a fair trial for the defendant,” said University of Florida professor Michael Seigel, director of the law school’s Criminal Justice Center. “He has to be leaning over backward in every possible way.”

Seigel said he is quite sure Perry is thinking, “For everybody concerned, the best thing to do is get this case over and done with as clean as possible.”

Perhaps that’s why the jurist’s decisions Monday do not punish Anthony — whose life is at stake in this first-degree murder trial in the death of her daughter, Caylee — for actions of her attorney.

Seigel and others, such as WFTV-Channel 9 legal analyst Bill Sheaffer, agree that excluding the testimony of the expert witnesses for Casey Anthony could lead to appellate issues later. Likewise, holding Baez in contempt mid-trial could open the door for a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Discovery rules and Perry’s repeated orders governing the disclosure of expert-witness testimony were designed to prevent what the judge has called “trial by ambush.”

Noted forensic anthropologist William Rodriguez was prepared to testify Saturday that he could not determine whether duct tape found with Caylee’s remains was placed on her mouth. It is potentially game-changing testimony in a prosecution case that relies heavily on circumstantial evidence.

The duct tape, in fact, has been cited by the prosecution as the potential murder weapon in this case.

But the prosecutors had not heard those opinions regarding the duct tape before Saturday, preventing them from fully preparing to cross-examine Rodriguez.

Similarly, Assistant State Attorney Jeff Ashton said Monday he was late in getting a report, opinions and other materials from Richard Eikelenboom, a Dutch forensic expert who specializes in “Touch DNA” involving trace amounts of the genetic material.

That’s when the prosecutor said he would be preparing a new sanctions “package” against Baez for Perry to consider.

Then Baez, in a prolonged appeal, lambasted Ashton, saying the prosecutor shirked his duties and arguing, “He wants to go after the lawyer, too. I think it is repulsive.”

Sheaffer, a longtime defense attorney, said Baez is “not deliberately violating the court’s orders; he is deliberately sandbagging the state.”

Perry will not exclude the defense experts’ testimony, Sheaffer said, but he will afford the prosecution adequate time to question them and prepare for cross-examination.

Copyright © 2011, Orlando Sentinel

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