You’ve definitely seen an episode of Law & Order or any Hollywood version of a court case during which a lawyer asks a witness questions that they’re not allowed to ask.
The questions are off-limits because in pre-trial, the lawyers have agreed not to show some document as evidence or bring up some discussion point.
But in court, especially in Hollywood’s dramatized version of court, the lawyers often try to anyway because it creates more mystery and excitement.
In the ongoing trial of Raj Rajaratnam for insider trading, it’s happened a few times.
The purpose isn’t always clear. For example today, when the prosecution attempted to show a transcript (of a phone call on September 24th at 7:09 AM — the morning after Warren Buffett invested $5 billion in Goldman), the defence shouted “Objection,” immediately.
Usually an objection is followed by an explanation or a meeting at the sidebar and the jury and the question is rephrased or something. However in this case, there was obviously an understanding that the existence of a document is all that the court can hear right now. Everyone looked to the judge for his ruling, and of course it was “sustained.”
The prosecution moved on from the discussion about the transcript and it was a non-event.
In Law & Order, these moments are much more exciting. The lawyer might ask a witness, but aren’t you also sleeping with the defendant? And even though the witness doesn’t have to answer and the jury is told to “strike the comment” from their judgment, the fact is that the jury heard it; the idea has been planted.
That’s what happened today at the Raj trial. The defence brought up something that was obviously off limits just to plant an idea.
Raj Rajaratnam’s defence lawyer, John Dowd, asked Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein about the circumstances surrounding one the firm’s board members, Rajat Gupta’s, resignation from the board.
Then Dowd asked Blankfein, “You’re aware that Goldman Sachs looked into this matter before?”
The prosecution objected immediately and the matter was dropped.
But of course, we’re all wondering, did Goldman look into Rajat Gupta’s behaviour?
UPDATE: Someone just suggested another interpretation of this moment — the defence might have thought that Blankfein’s answer opened the door to this question.