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Calling witnesses liars results in contempt citation

Defense attorney Jonathan K. Katz testified that he didn’t mean to ignore a trial judge’s admonition against calling witnesses “liars.” He was just so tired and stressed at the end of a 3 1/2-hour closing argument after eight days of testimony in a federal drug trial that he simply forgot the judge’s reprimand.

U.S. District Judge James P. Jones didn’t buy it.

Jones noted that his Western District colleague, Norman K. Moon, had told during the trial Katz not to use the term again to disparage witnesses after Katz had done so at least 30 times.

Katz refrained until the end of his argument, when he compared himself to Toto in The Wizard of Oz. He had exposed the falsehoods of the government’s witnesses just as the dog had pulled aside the curtain to show the true nature of the wizard, he said. He then yelled loudly and dramatically, “No good liars.”

Moon directed Katz, who is licensed in Virginia and practices out of Silver Spring, Md., to show why he shouldn’t be found in contempt. Jones presided over the show cause hearing after Moon recused himself.

The use of the closing phrase followed a careful and thoughtful analogy to the movie in a normal tone of voice and—notwithstanding Katz’s protestations to the contrary—was “a calculated theatrical stunt on his part,” Jones concluded in In re: Jonathan L. Katz. He ordered Katz to pay a $2,500 fine.

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