California lawyer fined for zapping witness with trick pen

California lawyer fined for zapping witness with trick pen

May 11th, 2014 by Associated Press in Local - Breaking News

SALT LAKE CITY - A California attorney has been fined $3,000 for zapping a witness with a trick pen during a Utah trial over whether electrical currents from a power plant are harming cows.

Fourth District Judge James Brady, in a ruling released this week, concluded Los Angeles-based lawyer Don Howarth's conduct amounted to "battery of a witness."

Howarth did not immediately return a phone call to his office Sunday.

While testifying against dairy farmers who claim "stray" currents from the Delta power plant harm nearby cattle, electricity expert Athanasios Meliopoulos said 1.5 volts could not be felt by a person, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Howarth, who represented dairy farmers, gave a child's gag pen to Meliopoulos, told him it contained a 1.5-volt AAA battery and challenged him to push it and "tell the jury whether you feel it or not," Brady wrote.

According to the package label, the retractable pen zaps the user with "a harmless powerful shock."

Meliopoulos, a Georgia Tech professor, pushed the pen and "received a strong electric shock, which caused his body to jerk and to drop the pen," the San Juab County judge wrote.

But in addition to the AAA battery, the pen also contained a transformer that boosted the battery voltage to up to 750 volts, Brady added.

The judge also faulted Howarth for ignoring a package label warning against its use by people older than 60 such as Meliopoulos.

Brady sided with lawyers for Intermountain Power Plant, who maintained the pen demonstration deliberately misled jurors.

"Witnesses ... are called up to answer questions," he wrote. "To add a requirement that they do this in a physically hostile environment where they may be subjected to electrical shocks without warning is far removed from the decorum and professionalism required by attorneys, and has no place in a court room."

Howarth was ordered to pay $1,000 to Meliopoulos and $2,000 to the power plant.

Jurors ultimately were released in November when a mistrial was declared in connection with an unrelated issue.