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Gamboa v. Metzler - 2/2/2010

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That Time Limitations Imposed by a Trial Court on a Party’s Examination of a Witness Are Not Unreasonable if the Time Constraints Encountered Are “Solely Attributable” to the Party.

Plaintiff Jaime Gamboa sued Defendant Dorothy Metzler in connection with a car accident.  Plaintiff called eight witnesses at trial.  Five of his witnesses testified on the second day of trial, but part of that day was not used because of witness scheduling problems.  The parties and trial court agreed that Plaintiff’s remaining three witnesses and Defendant’s lone witness would testify the third day on a specific schedule.  Plaintiff’s counsel, however, failed to alert one of his remaining witnesses to the schedule for the third day, and the witness arrived late, forcing Plaintiff to rest late.  Nonetheless, the parties agreed that Defendant’s lone witness would still complete his testimony by the end of the third day.  Plaintiff’s counsel cross-examined that witness for forty-three minutes before being stopped by the trial court at the end of the day.  Plaintiff’s counsel objected to “limiting [his] cross-examination,” but did not ask to resume cross-examination the following day or attempt to determine whether the witness was even available then.  The next day, the trial court stated that the scheduling problems were “solely attributable” to Plaintiff, and did not allow further examination.  Plaintiff timely appealed.

The Arizona Appeals Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not violate Plaintiff’s due process rights when it limited his cross-examination of Defendant’s witness.  The Court explained that Arizona Rule of Evidence 611(a) requires trial courts to “exercise reasonable control over the mode and order of interrogating witnesses and presenting evidence,” and Rule 611(h) permits them to impose “reasonable time limits on [] trial proceedings or portions thereof.”  Under these rules, trial courts have broad discretion to manage trials, but time limitations must be reasonable.  The Court explained that in this case, the trial court did not act unreasonably because: (1) the court allotted sufficient time for cross-examination; (2) Plaintiff repeatedly agreed that the witness would testify by the end of the third day; (3) the time constraints Plaintiff encountered were “solely attributable” to him; (4) Plaintiff had ample time to cross-examine the witness; and (5) Plaintiff did not request additional time when the court stopped his examination. 

The Court also held that Plaintiff failed to show that the limitation on his cross-examination caused him any harm because he did not make an offer of proof below.

Judge Portley authored the opinion; Presiding Judge Johnsen and Judge Barker concurred.

Posted By: Sharad H Desai

Posted On: 2/10/2010