In Cannon v. State, 275 So. 3d 802 (Fla. 1st DCA July 9, 2019), a trial judge made a poor attempt at humor by making a flippant comment about about a criminal defense attorney. A previous opinion reveals that there is much bad blood between that attorney and the judge: the attorney previously brought a post conviction case arguing that, before taking the bench, the judge had provided ineffective assistance of counsel to a different defendant. The First DCA held that the defendant was not entitled to postconviction relief, as the comment was made in jest, and denial of relief was otherwise justified by the thorough record.
Nonetheless, the First DCA noted that the case “highlights why judges should avoid attempts at humor while on the bench, even if it is intended for the laudable purpose of reducing unnecessary tension in the courtroom.” The judge’s offhand comments spawned years of postconviction litigation and multiple appeals in at least two cases, which could have been avoided if the judge had exercised self-restraint.
The First DCA concluded that “judicial humor is rarely as funny as the judge thinks it is, and judicial humor is never funny when it is at the expense of an attorney or a party.” The First DCA further observed that laughter obtained from a judge's joke will often arise from the courtroom's power dynamic, rather than a genuine belief that the joke was funny.