"Mr. Jones, isn't it true you beat your wife every Friday night?" asks the defense lawyer.
"OBJECTION! What the hell is he talking about Judge? I OBJECT!" screams the plaintiff's attorney.
"Objection sustained!" the judge says with authority.
Or, how about this one...
The defense lawyer asks my client "Mrs. Schwartz, isn't it true you were arrested for trespassing last year?"
"OBJECTION JUDGE! The defense lawyer knows that question is inappropriate. He's just trying to inflame the jury!"
"Objection sustained!" the judge yells back.
Or, how about ths one...
In a medical malpractice case,
"Dr. Clumsy Hands, isn't it true that Federal Agents raided your office and accused you of Medicare fraud and writing unnecessary prescriptions?"
"OBJECTION JUDGE! My client was never convicted of any crime and the plaintiff's attorney knows that. This is prejudicial!"
"Objection sustained," the judge says calmly as if he's just been interrupted drinking his tea.
In each of these examples, the judge says "Objection Sustained!"
What exactly does that mean?
First, before I answer that question, you need to know what an objection is during trial.
An objection is when an attorney believes that something is wrong.
He needs the judge to intervene.
He needs an immediate ruling from the judge.
The attorney needs to make sure that a piece of evidence is kept out.
He needs to have the question being asked rephrased.
He needs to keep a medical expert from testifying.
There are many reasons why an attorney will object at trial.
He might object to a question being asked.
He might object to what a witness will say.
He might object to a medical record being admitted into evidence.
When an attorney objects at trial, he is required to stand up and yell out "Objection!"
Then, he must give the judge a very brief legal reason for why he has now interrupted his adversary.
"Objection judge, that's hearsay!"
"Objection judge, he's badgering my client!"
"Objection judge, that's irrelevant and the defense attorney knows it."
The judge will then ask the defense lawyer to reply to my objection.
It must be brief as most judges refuse to have lengthy oral argument about legal issues in front of the jury.
Many times the judge will command the attorneys to approach the bench.
At that point the judge wants legal argument so the jury can't hear it.
Other times, the judge will refuse to hear any argument on the issue and make a snap ruling.
So, I've made an objection.
The defense lawyer is questioning the doctor whom my client has sued.
He's asking him a question about a conversation.
A conversation between the doctor and a nurse at the hospital.
The defense attorney says "Doctor, what did nurse Goody Twoshoes say to you when you asked her where the medication was?"
I jump up out of my seat a fraction later and scream out "OBJECTION JUDGE! THAT'S HEARSAY!"
The judge responds immediately and says "Objection sustained."
What does that mean?
It means that the question is improper and should not be answered.
It means the attorney must now ask another question.
It means the witness is not to answer the question.
In this example the attorney wanted the doctor to tell the jury about a conversation he had with a nurse.
Here's the problem...
The nurse is not part of this lawsuit.
Nobody ever questioned this nurse about what she knew or didn't know before this case got to trial.
We have no idea what she said.
Even if the doctor were to tell the jury and the judge what this nurse said, how do I know it's true?
Are we to believe that the doctor's statement is 100% true just because he said so?
Sorry, that's not how this works.
That's not how any of this works.
Since the defense has no intention of calling this nurse to testify, then how are we to verify the nurse's statement?
How are we to verify her credibility?
Since we can't, the doctor is prevented from telling us anything about their conversation.
Remember, the judge controls everything that happens in the courtroom.
He controls when court starts in the morning.
He controls when we take breaks.
He controls scheduling.
The judge makes legal rulings.
Rulings on which evidence gets admitted.
Rulings on which questions can be asked and which ones can't.
The judge decides which witnesses will be allowed to testify.
The judge decides what happens if someone violates his orders.
The jury decides what the real facts are in the case.
They are the fact-finders.
They decide who is more believable.
The jury decides whether we have shown that we are more likely right than wrong.
The court reporter records every question and answer.
The court reporter records every legal argument and every legal ruling.
When an attorney makes an objection during trial, the trial judge has typically three options...
- The judge can agree that the question should not be asked and says "Objection sustained."
- The judge disagrees with me and says the question is appropriate. In that instance he will say "Objection overruled."
- On a significant legal issue where the judge needs time to thoroughly evaluate the issue, he will say "Decision reserved." That means that he's not making a decision right now and will do legal research to evaluate the law. He will tell the attorney to immediately move on to another question.
Let me go through with you why the examples I discussed earlier were improper and should not be answered.
"You beat your wife every night"
This is a fantastic and wild accusation.
What does that have to do with the claims being made by the injured patient against her careless doctor?
What does that have to do with the defenses raised by the doctor and his lawyer?
There's only one reason to ask such an outrageous question.
To inflame the jury.
Does it matter if the attorney has proof of this?
Does it matter if Mr. Jones was arrested for this?
Being arrested does not mean he was found guilty of this charge.
Being arrested does not mean he pleaded guilty to this charge.
Beating his wife, while morally wrong and reprehensible, has nothing to do with the claims he's raising or even his credibility.
Therefore, the judge will say "Objetion sustained!"
Let's say this is a medical malpractice case.
If someone was arrested but not convicted or pleaded guilty, an attorney cannot ask about the arrest.
The arrest is meaningless.
It just means the police put you in custody and possibly charged you with a crime.
Dont' forget, in New York and in every state in the United States, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
There's only one reason an attorney will ask about an arrest during a civil trial.
That's to inflame the jury.
If they were convicted or plead guilty, the defense attorney can ask about those things and the witness must answer them.
Same thing with Federal agents raiding the doctor's office.
That doesn't mean the doctor is guilty of Medicare fraud.
He hasn't been convicted.
He hasn't plead guilty.
That means the question is improper.
Hopefully this article has given you a sense of what "Objection Sustained" is during a civil trial here in New York.