When pro se goes bad

See, this is why you don’t represent yourself in court. You run the risk of:

A: Incriminating yourself in front of a jury.

B: Intimidating a witness.

C: Not knowing what in God’s name you are doing.

A defendant facing 42 counts of incest, sexual assault and kidnapping charges for allegedly molesting and abusing his children did all of those things and more during his trial Wednesday in front of Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Borowski.

And after three days of the aforementioned issues, Borowski reached his tipping point. He threw the defendant off his own case and ordered defense attorney Scott Anderson – who was essentially waiting in the wings for this to happen – to take over and finish the case.

Obviously this wasn’t the first slip-up. While cross-examining another daughter earlier in the afternoon, Borowski had to repeatedly remind the defendant to ask questions and not make statements as though he was the one who was on the stand. It was truly a miracle that every objection Assistant District Attorney Sara Lewis made was not sustained.

But the final straw came while the defendant was cross-examining his daughter about the allegations she made against him.

“That was the last straw,” Borowski said. “You just threatened and intimidated that victim; he got in an argument back and forth with that victim and he admitted on the record to assaulting her.”

Borowski told the defendant he was throwing the defendant off his own case “to protect the record, to protect your rights and to protect the state, and to protect everyone’s rights to a fair and expeditious trial.

“That includes the victims or alleged victims who you are now clearly attempting to intimidate,” the judge continued.

As a spectator, it was probably the most uncomfortable trial I have ever sat through. I have sat through numerous sexual assault and abuse trials, but never one where the defendant was actually the one who cross-examined a witness.

When that happens, you get exchanges like the following:

Defendant: Was I hiding in the closet?

Daughter: Who’s to say if you were hiding, you shouldn’t have been … you were in my closet.

Defendant: Did I know that you were coming out of the shower?

Daughter: I’m pretty sure you did …

It felt less like a trial and more like a painful counseling session for a family that is, at the very least, very troubled and torn by the actions the defendant allegedly did. It clearly took a toll on his daughters, who would barely look at him while they were testifying.

Daughter: Why not just tell the truth and be honest instead of putting us through this?

Defendant So I’m putting you through this?

Daughter: You know you are.

Borowski: Mr. [defendant], ask questions!

The judge told the defendant that he will be allowed to stay in the courtroom, as long as he doesn’t attempt to intimidate the witnesses or make any faces. He needs to sit there quietly, Borowski said, as all defendants are expected to do.

I’m going to stop in on Thursday morning. If I was a betting man (and I’m not), I’d think the trial will be running much more smoothly with Anderson representing the defendant.

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