One Side in a Lawsuit Barred from Presenting Evidence?

From the LA Times:

Now, this guy is obviously some sort of nut. But I wouldn’t have thought it’s possible to bar one side in a case from presenting their evidence or cross-examining witnesses. Especially a defendent.

What are the rules that govern these matters. Do judges have unlimited power to disallow one side from presenting their case?

IANAL but a real, live lawyer who is now handling my divorce case, told me during a conversation that a judge in a courtroom is about as close to an absolute monarch as we have in the USA.

He added that the same could be applied to the captain of a Naval vessel.

In federal court, anyway, judges can impose a variety of sanctions for failure to cooperate in discovery, including barring one side from presenting evidence or from supporting (or opposing) particular claims. It only happens in extreme cases, but it’s a question of fairness. If the defendant has evidence that relates to the plaintiff’s case but refuses to provide it, or if the defendant tries to surprise the plaintiff at trial with evidence or witnesses that he previously failed to disclose, that’s unfair to the plaintiff. There are typically other less drastic punishments that a court would impose first, but it sounds like this guy just took it too far.

His case was thrown out for failing to follow court orders. A draconian penalty to be sure, I am not exactly an expert in California Law and Civil Procedure, but usually in such a case the order is a costs penalty against the offending party. Dismissing the defence makes me think that the breachs were major, persistant and continuing.

To the OP, he was after a fashion not allowed to present evidence, but that was a natural consequence of having his case thrown out.

It’s a last resort, but well within the judge’s discretion - subject, of course, to appeal. The judge’s pretrial orders as to the production of evidence have to have teeth in them, or they’ll be ignored by the one-in-a-million (your ratio may differ) overzealous jerk. The better approach, IME, is to grant a continuance for the other side to review and develop a response to the wrongly-withheld evidence, rather than to bar its admission entirely. You can still impose sanctions against the jerk personally.

As others have noted, this appears to be sanctions imposed for violating the Court’s orders. It’s a severe sanction, and one judges do not use very often, but this situation looks pretty extreme. The guy went through 17 law firms, which prolonged the litigation and increased the costs for the other side. Finally, the Judge had enough and dropped the bomb on him. Apparently he’s got money, so we may see appeals to follow…

This is usually a sign that a party wants to march to his own drummer instead of complying with legal rules and court orders.

While Elendil’s Heir suggests a plausible alternative, that can often work injustice, too. If the continuance is during the trial, the jury is inconvenienced as they wait for someone to clean up the bad faith mess. And if it’s not, the uncooperative party gets a delay, which he probably wants anyway. It depends on the facts of the case.

Each party has the right to conduct discovery (to get information and documents from other parties upon request). If an asking party makes a discovery request of a responding party and the responding party fails to comply, then the asking party usually seeks a court order compelling a proper reply from the responding party.

If the responding party still fails to comply in the face of that court order, then the asking party goes back to court, usually seeking a monetary sanction order from the court.

If the responding party still fails to comply, then the court can make evidentiary sanctions and even terminating sanctions (essentially terminating someone’s claim or defense completely). These sanctions are usually limited to the scope of the failure to comply. For example, if you refuse to respond to questions as to liability, but you cooperate with questions regarding calculation of damages, then the court can bar your evidence but may opt to allow your evidence as to damages.

Reframed in the criminal context, it’s not that surprising to hear that the prosecution is barred from presenting certain evidence. Imposing similar sanctions on the defense is problematic, of course, because sanctions cannot undermine our confidence in a fair trial. Even so, there are typically local or state court rules concerning things like alibi defenses – in Virginia, if you’re going to use an alibi, you must inform the prosecution ahead of time. This gives them the chance to investigate your claim. Failure to provide this advance notice may well result in the trial court ruling you may not present the alibi defense.

Just out of curiosity, what is the normal procedure when “late-breaking evidence” occurs? For this question, unlike the case in the OP, assume the two sides in a lawsuit are not being jerks, comply with the provisions for discovery and for mediation if ordered, and still proceed to trial – and then one side comes into possession of evidence not available at discovery? Assume good faith all around; something later came to light not found out by either side at the time of discovery despite proper diligence in ferreting out evidence. I would guess that the side opposing the side which got the late-breaking evidence would ask for and be granted a continuation to review the new evidence and if needd revise their strategy. But I don’t know that for a fact, so I’m asking.

I think you may have misread… his suit was thrown out, and he was forbidden to present a defense in the countersuits.

I suspect that the article is poorly written and doesn’t present what exactly happened. However, one of the sanctions available in my jurisdiction for failure to comply with a discovery order is

Getting to this point is incredibly rare, but it does happen. If he repeatedly blew off discovery orders and refused to respond to discovery, I could see the court sanctioning him this way.

But if he’s a criminal defendant and then convicted, he’d almost certainly have an out on appeal with a Strickland claim. He’d have to show both that the conduct was objectively unreasonable, that it fell below an objective standard for competent representation, AND that the mistake undermined the confidence in the results of the trial. And assuming that the suppressed evidence was in fact exculpatory, he could show both those prongs of the Strickland test.

Now, we might ask what would happen if a pro se defendant did the same thing. And the answer typically would be that well before he got to the final stage, the judge wouldn’t let him continue pro se, or would appoint standby counsel to assist.

Yes, a continuance may be granted. As a prosecutor there were a few cases of mine where evidence came to my attention at the very last minute, through no fault of anyone in particular. I always said I’d have no objection if the defense wanted a continuance. They never did, but I didn’t want anyone to say I’d tried to sandbag 'em.

Well, there is summary judgment or summary dismissal, both of which will end the case before a complete trial, and thus prevent one side (and maybe both) from presenting evidence.

For example, after the prosecution finishes presenting their case, the defense lawyer may ask the judge for summary dismissal of the case, saying that the prosecution has failed to prove the case. If the judge grants that, the trial is over, without the defense ever presenting their evidence. But it’s more a situation of ‘don’t have to bother to present our evidence, because we’ve already won’ than of being prevented from presenting evidence. Not quite the same.

In civil matters in California there is another way to bar evidence without sanctions being imposed. If you send the opponent a Request for Admission* and the opponent fails to respond, then the requesting party may file a motion to deem matters admitted.

If the opponent loses that motion, then all matters in the Request for Admission are deemed admitted for purposes of the case. There will be no need to present evidence on the matters deemed admitted, and no rebuttal evidence permitted. I have won a couple cases this way (opponents pro per, of course).

*A Request for Admission, generally, is a document asking the opponent to admit to the truth of certain facts (i.e., Please admit X is true. Please admit Y is true. Etc.). The opponent must respond to each request with an admission of truth, a denial, or, in some states, a statement that the opponent lacks information sufficient to determine the truth of the matter.

In order for this to be affirmed by the appeal court in California, the aggrieved party would have had to ignored a whole series of discovery orders and had numerous sanctions imposed on him. This is the equivalent of striking his complaint and answer to the cross-complaints and taking a default, although the defendants and cross-complainants proceeded with a jury, as may be their right.

This is very rare in California, but it does happen. And it is a court ordered sanction for disobeying more than one court order.