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Maddox Pagones v. Sharpton & Mason: 1997-98

Fistfights In Court

The trial was long and bitter; often the jury had to be excused from the courtroom as yelling matches and even fistfights broke out among the rival factions. Sharpton used the witness stand as a pulpit, insisting that it was his duty as a civil rights activist and a Brawley family spokesman to call for the arrest of the men the family accused of rape.

Stanton questioned Sharpton, inquiring, "Had she [Tawana] ever told you what happened to her?"

"In terms of details, I would not engage in sex talk with a 15-year-old girl," Sharpton replied. "I would have thought it would have been the height of ignorance to go to Tawana and say, 'Is your mother and father lying?'… That's absolutely ridiculous."

An extraordinary moment came during the cross-examination of Tommy Young, a police officer who had interviewed Tawana after the alleged incident and later concluded it was a hoax: Irked by the trial's slow pace, Judge Hickman asked the attorneys to work late to finish questioning Young. Sharpton's lawyer, Michael Hardy, complained that such a move would prejudice the jurors against himself. "I don't think that's appropriate judicial conduct," he said—whereupon Maddox joined in, "You can't give people respect," he yelled at Hickman, adding that he was not "tolerant."

"I've been as tolerant of you as any judge would be!" Hickman roared back.

When Stephen Jackson, attorney for Mason, also joined in the judge baiting, Hickman rose up, banged his gavel, shouted, "Stop it! Stop it! I've had enough! I've had enough!" and stormed out of the courtroom.

Eventually calm was restored, and the trial continued. And then, finally, Pagones got a chance to tell his side of the story.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentMaddox Pagones v. Sharpton Mason: 1997-98 - Fistfights In Court, A Ten-year Delay