Hans Reiser was rebuked by the judge in his murder trial Tuesday after he pointed at the judge and questioned the competence of his defense lawyer.
In a wild session at the end of the day outside the presence of jurors, Reiser, a 44-year-old computer engineer accused of murdering his estranged wife Nina, told Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman that he objected to a stipulation his attorney, William DuBois, had reached with prosecutor Paul Hora.
The stipulation, announced in open court in front of jurors, was that although Nina Reiser's mother currently has custody of the couple's two children and is raising them in Russia, the matter is still under appeal.
After the jury went home for the day, Reiser, who frequently held up his hand in court today so he could get Goodman's attention, told the judge that such a stipulation isn't acceptable to him because “it's stillan issue as to whether U.S. courts have lost jurisdiction over the children completely” because they are in Russia.
When Reiser continued to press his argument and pointed at Goodman, the judge angrily told him, “Mr. Reiser, if you point your finger at me again and use that tone with me you're going to be in serious trouble.”
A few minutes later, after Reiser demanded to be allowed to examine all the evidence in the case and be given an iPod in jail so he can listen to police interviews, Goodman said it sounded like Reiser was questioning DuBois' competence and asked Reiser point-blank, “Do you want to fire your attorney?”
Goodman said, “You can fire him any time, but that won't stop your trial” and said that if Reiser dismissed DuBois and co-counsel Richard Tamor he'd have to be ready to act as his own attorney starting Wednesday morning.
Reiser complained that the judge wasn't giving him “a realistic alternative” to have time to get a new lawyer and said he'll continue with DuBois.
Hans Reiser is accused of murdering Nina Reiser, who was 31 when she disappeared on Sept. 3, 2006, after she dropped off the couple's children at his house at 6979 Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills.
Nina's body has never been found, despite extensive searches in the Oakland hills and elsewhere, but prosecutors charged Hans withmurdering her because they believe that DNA and blood evidence proves that he killed her.
The couple married in 1999 but Nina filed for divorce and separated from Hans in 2004. They were in the midst of an acrimonious divorce and a battle over the custody of their children, Rory and Nio, when she disappeared.
Hans Reiser has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
DuBois has said he thinks that Nina Reiser may still be alive and be in hiding in Russia, where she was raised and where she was trained as a physician.
Hans Reiser's outburst today came after Alameda County Social Services investigator Seng Fong testified about a lengthy series of court hearings over the fate of the couple's children, who were removed from his custody on Sept. 8, 2006, only five days after Nina disappeared.
Fong said a final ruling that approved placing the children with Nina's mother in Russia wasn't made until March 28, following about 15 court hearings on the matter.
After court adjourned today, DuBois said he thinks the lengthy discussion about the custody of the children put Reiser in a bad mood.
The defense lawyer noted that Reiser had a similar outburst on Nov. 15, when Rory, his 8-year-old son, testified and he demanded to be allowed to ask him questions.
At the end of the day, DuBois had a private conversation with Reiser, who was guarded by a bailiff, in a stairway outside Goodman's courtroom.
When DuBois emerged, he smiled and said, “It was a nice conciliatory meeting” and he planned to be back in court Wednesday morning and continue as Reiser's lawyer.
Goodman told jurors earlier today that Hora hopes to finish presenting the prosecution's case by the end of next week.
Goodman said DuBois will begin presenting the defense's case on Feb. 11. He said the defense case will only take a week or less, unless Reiser testifies, a major strategic issue that the defense hasn't yet resolved.
Goodman said that if Reiser doesn't testify, closing arguments will be held the week of Feb. 18 and jury deliberations will begin the week of Feb. 25.
If Reiser testifies, those dates will be pushed back about a week.