Trials, Lies & Videotapes

20110903-044110.jpg“One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words” – 1918 Newspaper Advertisement for the San Antonio Light.

Often I look to my own law practice and find inspiration for a topic on trial advocacy. In preparation for an upcoming trial and mediation, I decided that a sprawling case involving boxes of documents, video interviews, audio recordings, printed newspaper articles, internet blogs, and TV news reports would benefit from the same approach that a movie director or a cutting room editor might apply to a documentary or a movie.

My family is pretty creative and even a little artsy at times. My younger brothers every Christmas have put together family theatrical productions/movies and pseudo-documentaries together with PowerPoint, iMovie and Windows Movie Maker. One of my younger brothers is studying sports broadcasting and is in fact quite talented at putting news reports together. So I hired him to put together my client’s story. We used my detailed demand as our working script and pieced together our case in a visual format. The collaborative result was an impressive and focused narrative that I provided which was interspersed with segments of evidence we had collected as part of the discovery process.

I have increasingly been taking video-taped depositions of the key players in cases. I then present video clips from the deposition as part of my presentation at mediations and in trials. In a video deposition, the witness cannot hide. He cannot say “that is not what I said” or “the court reporter must have misunderstood me.” He is much less likely to rewrite his deposition with his errata sheet, as well. If your opponent objections or tries to coach the witness, you can let the objections in to show what is really happening or edit them out for clarity and flow. Pregnant pauses can be eliminated to develop pace and increase interest.

In this day and age, people want information presented in an easily digestible format. In my most recent case, there were a number of media formats. These sources included TV news conferences, video depositions, video interviews, audio clips, surveillance videos, documentary evidence, as well as, informational clips summarizing the topics of liability, the law and damages. The whole presentation was cut down to about 15 minutes and I was able to stop the “movie” on separating slides, narrate and highlight the upcoming clip with my own headlines, outline or off-the-cuff observations.
I knew it was powerful and persuasive when my opponent remarked that “well it is not as clear and clean as you wanted to make it.” Nonetheless, all the information that was pieced together was objective and irrefutable. I did not make it up. The order in which it was presented made it easy to follow and see why it was damaging to my opponent’s position. The most damaging video clips came directly from my opponents discovery and depositions or from news interviews found on the Internet or YouTube.

In one instance the other side was testifying about a supposed “head-butt” committed by my client. I was able to play the few seconds of taped footage from a squad car showing the event, then immediately play the other party’s testimony describing the event he saw. While he described the event during his video deposition, I was able to superimposed in the lower corner of the screen, a video clip (no audio) which cycled through the supposed “head-butt” several times as he testified about it. The party’s description of the event could be immediately compared with his deposition testimony. The viewer could judge instantly whether a crime had been committed as suggested by the deponent or whether it was an overblown post hoc justification for an unlawful arrest.

60 Minutes is an excellent show that competently digests and puts together an array of interviews, media and information in a concise and persuasive fashion. Today these technique are now available to the average person at minimal cost. Keep this mind for your next case as you move forward.

About Richard A. Cook

Richard Cook graduated from Purdue University in the Economics Honor Program in 1979 and obtained his Juris Doctor degree from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1982. Following law school, Richard served as a federal law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. In 1984, Richard began working as Deputy Prosecutor for the Lake County Prosecutor's Office and from there, served as Assistant U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. There he handled a number of complex criminal matters and jury trials. While there, Richard received the Chief Postal Inspector's Special Award and a letter of commendation from the U.S. Attorney General for his work prosecuting a major money order fraud scheme being perpetrated out of the Indiana State Prison system. Since leaving the U.S. Attorney's office in 1989, Richard has focused primarily on civil work and is currently a member of the firm Yosha Cook & Tisch in Indianapolis. Richard is also a member of the ITLA, IBA and the ABA, as well as, a fellow for the American College of Trial Lawyers. He is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell.

Posted on July 30, 2014, in closing arguments, Evidence, Trial Advocacy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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