The trial against Jordan Johnson began this week and continues into
next week in Missoula County District Court. Reporter Gwen Florio has been covering the rape case for the Missoulian, and I have been
sending tweets from @missoulian. The hashtag is #johnsontrial.
1. The Judge
On the first day, Judge Karen Townsend told the crowd she will have
the courtroom all rise as the jury enters. So that’s standard
procedure in the course of a day as the jurors walk into the room in
the morning or after a recess. The gesture lends a measure of respect for justice and for the people who will ultimately decide this case.
Townsend appears to be quiet but firm with the lawyers, who are
raising many objections along the way, specifically about evidence
such as texts or instant messages. At one point, defense lawyer David Paoli repeatedly tried to ask a witness about one such item, and Judge Townsend repeatedly held him back but in a respectful way. The first time Adam Duerk for the prosecution raised an objection and the judge agreed with him, he thanked her. She said, “You don’t need to thank me.”
The movie stereotype of the old judge falling asleep on the bench is
totally out the window. Judge Townsend at times has to consider
whether to allow the witness to answer a particular question, and
sometimes, she tells the person to answer “only yes or no.” Other
times, she has to guide the lawyer to establish more “foundation” for a certain line of questioning.
The lawyers are approaching her frequently during questioning to
discuss matters the rest of the courtroom can’t overhear.
2. The Lawyers
The lawyers are skilled, of course, but they have different styles in the courtroom. Prosecutor Joel Thompson is methodical and precise when he questions the witnesses and when he redirects. He speaks mostly to the person on the stand. Defense lawyer David Paoli has a more dramatic flair. Sometimes, he faces the jury when he asks a question of the witness. Yesterday as he quizzed a witness, he marched to the prosecution’s desk and raised his voice to the other
lawyer. The approach prompted Thompson to say something like, “I’m not on the stand.”
3. The Jury
I believe a rapport among jurors solidified yesterday. We reporters
sit mostly in the front row, and the jurors walk past us every time.
Yesterday, in the afternoon, there was something more loose and light about the way they entered the room. There was an ease among them. I wonder if that sense will change along the way again as they discuss the case.
4. The Crowd
Many lawyers and law students are dropping in to watch the trial
because it isn’t often a case of this magnitude gets tried in
Missoula. Reporters are mostly in the front row facing the witness
stand. Sometimes, when testimony gets emotional, you can hear someone crying in the back, but it’s of course mostly quiet. A deputy asks people to turn off their cell phones as they walk into the room, but a couple times, people’s phones have rung while the court is in session.
The trial continues today.
– Keila Szpaller