The Floor for the Value of a Human Life is Flying High
You have a wrongful death claim and need an indisputable source of information to determine the minimum value of a human life. Wouldn’t it be nice if the federal government published minimum values for the loss of a human life? Well, they have! The U.S. Defense Department has made a conscious decision on this very disputed issue of value.
The federal government has determined that the minimum value attributable to the loss of one life is $250,000,000 (a quarter of a billion dollars). How can this be? Where can the supporting information be reviewed? Well, the F-22 Raptor costs approximately $250 million per jet, replacing the F-15 Eagle which costs $65 million each.
The federal government installs pilot ejector systems on every F-22 Raptor Jet fighter. The government does this to protect the pilot, not the plane. In order to save the life of a pilot of a Raptor F-22, the government chooses to sacrifice our most expensive combat jet airplane to insure the pilot lives to fly another day. The F-22 jet airplane costs $250,000,000 to manufacture. In spite of this huge cost, the federal government has chosen to install an ejector system to save the pilot’s life even though the ejection of the pilot will result in the certain and immediate loss of a quarter of a billion dollar jet airplane.
How about that… This analogy was raised some time ago by a trial lawyer by referencing the Eagle F-15. Well the minimum value for the loss of a human life has just gone up… at least in the eyes of the federal government.
The Case Against Experts in the Courtroom
“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Albert Einstein
I have always thought it is unclear whether Indiana Rule of Evidence (IRE) 615 applies to depositions. IRE 101(C) states:
Rules Inapplicable. The rules, other than those with respect to privileges, do not apply in the following situations:
(1) Preliminary questions of fact. The determination of questions of fact preliminary to admissibility of evidence when the issue is to be determined by the court under Rule 104(a).
(2) Miscellaneous proceedings. Proceedings relating to extradition, sentencing, probation, or parole; issuance of criminal summonses, or of warrants for arrest or search, preliminary juvenile matters, direct contempt, bail hearings, small claims, and grand jury proceedings.
Interestingly enough, no mention of depositions is made in the proceedings excluded.
Ind.T.R. 30(C) states in part:
Examination and cross-examination of witnesses may proceed as permitted at the trial under the provisions of Rule 43(B). *** All objections made at the time of the examination to the qualifications of the officer taking the deposition, or to the manner of taking it, or to the evidence presented, or to the conduct of any party, and any other objection to the proceedings, shall be noted by the officer upon the deposition. When there is an objection to a question, the objection and reason therefr shall be noted, and the question shall be answered unless the attorney instructs the deponent not to answer, or the deponent refuses to answer, in which case either party may have the question certified by the Reporter, and the question with the objection thereto when so certified shall be delivered to the party requesting the certification who may then proceed under Rule 37(A).
Ind. T.R. 32(B) states:
Objections to admissibility. Subject to the provisions of Rule 28(B) and subdivision (D)(3) of this rule, objection may be made at the trial or hearing to receiving in evidence any depositions or part thereof for any reason which would require the exclusion of the evidence if the witness were then present and testifying.
* * *
(D) Effect of errors and irregularities in depositions
(3) As to taking of deposition.
(a) Objections to the competency of a witness or to the competency, relevancy, or materiality of testimony are not waived by failure to make them before or during the taking of the deposition, unless the ground of the objection is one which might have been obviated or removed if presented at that time.
(b) Errors and irregularities occurring at the oral examination in the manner of taking the deposition, in the form of the questions or answers, in the oath or affirmation, or in the conduct of parties and errors of any kind which might be obviated, removed, or cured if promptly presented, are waived unless reasonable objection thereto is made at the taking of the deposition. ***
Ind. T.R. 43(B) then reads:
Evidence on motions. When a motion is based on facts not appearing of record the court may hear the matter on affidavits presented by the respective parties, but the court may direct that the matter be heard wholly or partly on oral testimony or depositions.
My take away from all of this is that if you want to use the deposition at trial or in connection with a motion for summary judgment, then the rules of evidence would apply. Also, if you do not object to the presence of the expert at the time of the deposition pursuant to IRE 615 the objection is waived because it could have been obviated by the opposing attorney by ordering the expert to leave. If the opposing attorney disagrees then you would have to hope you win the issue at trial or stop the deposition and immediately file a motion to terminate under Ind. T.R. 30(D). As a result, I would think a court would find IRE 615 applicable to a deposition.
That being said, I think having an expert present to aid you in examining another expert would usually be “a person whose presence is shown by a party to be essential to the presentation of the party’s cause” under IRE 615(C). In Ledden v Kuzma, 858 N.E.2d 186 (Ind.Ct.App.2006), the Kuzmas sought a protective order barring Ledden’s expert from attending Ledden’s deposition of the Kuzmas’ expert witness. The Court of Appeals stated:
Under appropriate circumstances, it may be proper for a protective order to be granted barring an expert -or anyone else – from attending the deposition in question. If a party is able to meet the requirements of Trial Rule 26(c)(5), then a protective order would be warranted. But if, as here, a party is unable to provide any particular and specific demonstration of fact in support of the request for a protective order, then there is no reason – based in logic or rule – to bar the expert from attending the deposition.
Generic allegations of prejudice were made in Ledden v Kuzma. A factual demonstration supported by evidence of real harm seems to be required given the holding in Ledden v Kuzma.
Trial is a different thing. The argument for the a separation of witnesses is weaker at the discovery stage since you may need the help of your own expert to pin someone down at the pretrial discovery stage whether investigation is needed. While IRE 615(C) does allow a party to designate a person whose presence is essential to their presentation to be present in the courtroom, this creates practical problems and raises concerns about “fairness in administration” and “the end that the truth may be ascertained and proceedings justly determined.” See IRE 102 Purpose and Construction.
When I had this occur in a trial, I successfully argued that the defense expert is not allow to watch the trial and weigh evidence as this is the sole province of the jury. IRE 702(A) states:
If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.
Allowing expert to attend the trial and opine is a kin to having a shadow jury. Such a process misleads the jury as to an expert’s true role which is to aid the jury in deciding the case, not supplant them. Trial testimony by the expert could run afoul of Rule 704(B) since the expert would in essence be testifying as to whether a witness (including your expert) testified truthfully by opining after watching all the witnesses testify. Also, Ind.T.R. 26 requires that the basis and opinion of an expert be seasonably disclosed before the trial. An expert’s opinion would change and morph as the trial progressed. The expert, not the jury, would resolve questions of fact, credibility and the weight to be given witness testimony and items of evidence. Such expert testimony could impair or deprive a party of their constitutional right to trial by jury.
So, what do you think?
Closing Argument – Save Your Zingers for Rebuttal!
If you are the plaintiff or the state prosecutor in a criminal case, you have the advantage of going last. However, remember that the scope of rebuttal is determined by the issues addressed in the closing argument of opposing counsel. When I was a law clerk right out of school, I saw team of attorneys for plaintiff decide that they would split the closing argument with one of them to discuss liability in the first half of their argument and the second attorney would address the issue of damages in rebuttal.
The defense, realizing a tactical mistake made by the plaintiffs’ attorneys, chose to limit their argument to liability only and moved in limine to prevent the plaintiff’s attorney from arguing damages in rebuttal. The jury retired, confused as to whether they were supposed to decide only liability or both damages and liability. Ironically, at the end of the day, failure to argue damages did not seem to matter much. In that case the jury returned a record multimillion dollar verdict.
Don’t make this mistake. You might not be as lucky. See Indiana Jury Rule 27. This Rule provides:
When the evidence is concluded, the parties may, by agreement in open court, submit the case without argument to the jury.
If the parties argue the case to the jury, the party with the burden of going forward shall open and close the argument. The party which opens the argument must disclose in the opening all the points relied on in the case. If, in the closing, the party which closes refers to any new point or fact not disclosed in the opening, the adverse party has the right to reply to the new point or fact. The adverse party’s reply then closes the argument in the case.
If the party with the burden of going forward declines to open the argument, the adverse party may then argue its case. In criminal cases, if the defense declines to argue its case after the prosecution has made opening argument, then that shall be the only argument allowed in the case.
In criminal cases, the party with the burden of going forward is the prosecution. In civil cases, the party with the burden of going forward is the plaintiff.
If you know there are points the defense must cover, I would recommend saving some of your best zingers, one-liners or analogies for rebuttal. Your opponent will be silenced, and your statements will not be directly challenged.
There is nothing more powerful in terms of capturing someone’s attention and imbedding your message in their brain than a good one-liner; or, as I like to call them, a “zinger”. A “zinger” is described as, “a surprising or unusually pointed or telling remark.”
In today’s modern, fast-paced world, speechwriters and politicians often work on developing that one biting quip or sound bite which will disarm an opponent and grab an audience’s favor. Such comments often seem unscripted even though they were planned out well in advance. Attorneys can use “zingers” as a rhetorical device during cross-examination or in closing argument to drive a point home. “Zingers” are especially effective in rebutting your opponent’s argument. Your source material is everywhere. I urge you to look to quote books, comedians and popular culture for such material. There is even a source entitled “The Complete Book of Zingers“.
A recent book, The Notes, posthumously published on behalf of President Ronald Reagan, is a collection of quotes and anecdotes that Reagan gathered over his long career as a speaker and politician. He made a concerted effort throughout his life to look for and collect such quotes on index cards.
President Reagan was the master of the one-liner. Who can forget Reagan’s “There you go again” quip he used to boomerang criticism of his position back at his opponent, President Jimmy Carter during their presidential debate in 1980. See:
Books containing anthologies of jokes are another source of such material. The master of the “zinger” is Samuel Clemens, more famously remembered as Mark Twain. In dealing with the topic of truthfulness and the use of statistics to bolster a weak argument, Twain observed:
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Another way of putting it according to Twain was:
“Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”
Such a statement can quickly and effectively eviscerate an opponent and swings the audience or jury in one’s favor. Cultivate your inner one-liners; you won’t be disappointed and you may just “zing” your opponent the next time you are in court.
If you are on the defense, I would point out that after you sit down you will not be allowed to speak any further and cannot address the issues raised in rebuttal. You and your client have to trust the jury will scrutinize the arguments of the plaintiff the same way as the arguments of the defense.
Closing Argument – Taking the Wind Out of the Other Side’s Sails before They Leave the Dock
It is important to stick with the argument that you’ve planned out and then aggressively and positively put forward your case. You don’t want to waste too much time responding to the other side’s argument to the detriment of their own. You want to help the jurors reach their own conclusions about the case through the use of rhetorical questions. Give the jury some credit and let them answer the questions you pose. If your rhetorical questions are properly framed, the answer will be obvious.
1. Addressing Your Problems Before the Other Side Does
Address your own problems before the other side goes on the attack. This allows you the advantage primacy as the jury will hear your arguments first as they mentally work their way through your case. Handle the questions likely to be raised by the defense in a forthright and confident manner. Put forth your best analysis of the evidence in favor of your client.
2. Credibility and Sincerity is Your Greatest Weapon
State your position with conviction and sincerity. If you exude sincerity, you will gain the trust of the jurors in your analysis of the case. To succeed, your analysis must be an honest one that does not dodge the difficult questions. If you lose your credibility, you lose your ability to persuade.
3. Address Any Weak Points in Your Theory
You need to anticipate attacks and be ready to address them in a calm and confident fashion so the jury understands that the supposed problems are nothing. You should have laid the groundwork for this in your voir dire of the jury, as well as in your opening statement and the evidence presented.
The Barrister’s Toolbox will hit 50,000 Views today… Now What?
Today my blog will have 50,000 views for the over 107 posts I have authored on a number of topics that confronts today’s trial advocate. My most read topic is about how to handle a deposition errata sheet. I find that quite surprising. A young attorney from New York called to thank me for the post and followed up with a thank you card. I still have that card on my desk to remind me why I take the time to blog.
It is nice to give back to the profession and job I love. Back in law school, I knew my goal was to become the best trial attorney and advocate possible. I have worked on cases involving civil rights, personal injury, product liability, premises liability, defamation, false arrest, medical malpractice, murder, rape, pollution, RICO, wrongful death, mail fraud, gambling, counterfeiting, construction, drug trafficking, pollution, real estate, contract disputes and even a death penalty case. A few things I take away from all of this is over the last three decades of practice:
- Talent is over rated and hard work is under valued. An average attorney can out work and out hustle a smarter attorney. Put the time in to do the job right. Always assume your opponent is smarter than you so as too not overlook any key details.
- If you get into a new or difficult case don’t be afraid to,ask for help from a more experienced colleague. Your client deserves that much. In fact, join a trial attorney association and participate in it. Seek out mentors… They will help you grow as a professional.
- Re beer your reputation and integrity are the most important asset you or your client have, never take a good case and try to make it a great case or you will be left with bad case.
- Always continue to learn and hone your skills as a trial attorney. Otherwise, you will be left behind.
- Strive for excellence everyday, but accept the fact that you are only human and will make mistakes and fail from time to time. Embrace your mistakes as your best teachers. The worst mistakes we make are those we repeat. The first sign of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.
- Take time to enjoy your life outside of the law. You need balance. While the law is a jealous mistress, it does mean your spouse should be a widow and your children orphans.
- The judge may not always be right, but the judge is always “the judge”. Respect the office even if you don’t respect the man who holds the position.
- That being said never be afraid to hold firm in your position for a client. Courage and fortitude are required. Politely make your record as needed and move on to the next topic. Often times a judge will reverse himself, if you make an offer to prove and stand firm.
- Finally, remember it costs you nothing to be a gentleman. Treat everyone with respect you encounter and it will be returned tenfold.
Closing Argument: Begin Strong, End Stronger and Sock It to Them!
As far as I am concerned, when it comes to your closing argument, you want to begin strong and end strong. You are the director, producer and central author of the closing argument. Syd Field is the author of a number of books on screenwriting. His principles have equal application to the formulation of a closing argument. In his book, Screenplay: Foundations of Screenwriting he talks about how important the first 10 minutes (about 10 pages) of your script are. Screeners of scripts will typically look at the first 10 pages of the screenplay and if they don’t like it, they quit reading and toss the script to the trash pile.
Jurors are not much different. If you haven’t caught their attention in the first few minutes of closing argument, they are probably going to start daydreaming about what they will do once they’re out of the trial. Instead of spending a bunch of time at the beginning of closing thanking jurors or their service, I would recommend grabbing their attention with a snappy introduction while you have their undivided attention. Don’t waste this opportunity with boilerplate pleasantries and thanking the jury for their service. This comes across as flattery and will seem insincere. You are better off giving your thanks in the middle of your closing where it will be seen as heartfelt and less forced. Make sure you end strong as well so you can take advantage of the effects of primacy and recency. You are giving the jury needed inspiration as they retire to the jury room to deliberate.
At the end of his closing arguments before he sat down, renowned trial attorney, Gerry Spence, used the following analogy to drive home the point that his client’s fate was in the hands of the jury :
“I’m going to tell you a simple story, about a wise old man and a smart aleck young boy who wanted to show up the wise old man for a fool. The boy captured [a] little bird. He had the idea he would go to the wise old man with the bird in his hand and say, ‘What have I got in my hand?’ And the old man would say, ‘Well, you have a bird, my son.’ And he would say, ’Wise old man, is the bird alive or is it dead?’ The old man knew if he said,’It is dead,’ the little boy would open his hand and the bird would fly away. If he said, “It is alive,” the boy would take the bird in his hand and crunch the life out of it and then open his hand and say, ’See, it is dead.’ So the boy went up to the wise old man and he said, ’Wise old man, what do I have in my hand?’ The old man said, ’Why, it is a bird.’ He said, ’Wise old man, is it alive or is it dead?’ And the wise old man said, ’The bird is in your hands, my son.’”
So give the jury a memorable closing argument by starting and ending strong.
Outlining Your Questions… Is There a Better Way?
Exactly how do you want to format your questions? There are several schools of thought on this matter. I know successful attorneys that literally script out every question and every answer to the question. In this way, the attorney can visualize exactly what will take place in the courtroom. Such a format also allows someone else, such as a paralegal or another attorney, to go through the outline with the witness even if you were not available to prepare them. The downside of such an outline is that usually ends up being extremely long like a deposition transcript. Also, when you work through the testimony in that fashion you can become a little too pat and maybe even a little stale, reversed and staged.
I will typically prepare an outline starting with the witness’s qualifications and background and then work through the evidence I wish to get from the witness. Instead of questions, like the game show Jeopardy I write out only the answers. Instead of 80 page outlines, my outlines typically run 5 to 12 pages. The advantage of such a system is that you can check your outline quickly. You focus on the answer you need to get instead of the questions. I form the questions on the fly as I come to each new fact I must elicit from the witness. Your questions come across more naturally and do not seem staged or scripted since they are slightly different each time. This keeps your witness alert as well.
Initially, this will take a little extra effort. However, you will be rewarded by developing this skill of being able to formulate questions on the spot. If an objection is sustained to a question you ask, instead of staring blankly at your outline, you will rapidly formulate a new question which will hopefully obviate the objection raised.
On the top of each witness outline, I like to write the elements of my claim that the witness will help support and any evidentiary foundations that might be required of the witness and legal authority supporting the same. Another way of accomplishing the same end is to place the foundational prerequisites on a Post-it and affixed to the back of the exhibit.
You want to look organized and prepared for the jury. Your mastery of your own exhibits will go a long way in impressing the jury of your command of the case and your competency and professionalism. Need a system to keep all your witnesses and exhibits organized? Sometimes the best system is the simplest one.
I use a separate folder for each witness and each exhibit. I make sure all the folder tabs line up in a single row for the witnesses and label each witness folder with their last name, first name or, if it’s a record keeper, I use the name of the organization. By using a single row of tabs you can quickly thumb through the files without having to scan side to side. I then alphabetize the folders from A to Z.
In each witness folder, I keep a copy of the witness’s outline and a copy of any exhibits needed for the witness. This way if I need to run out and meet with a witness, I just pull their folder and run. Because of my preparation, I know I have everything in hand I need to deal with that witness.
Each exhibit is also kept in a separate tabbed folder or tabbed binder and is sequentially pre-numbered or pre-marked with a letter. The folders or tabs are then sequentially ordered just as was done with the witnesses.
I also prepare two lists, one for witnesses and one for exhibits. Witnesses are listed alphabetically with the number or letter for each exhibit to be shown to that witness listed in the adjacent column.
I create a second list with exhibits sequentially listed and all witnesses crossed reference for each exhibit. On this list I also have columns to note if an exhibit was tendered into evidence and whether it was admitted or excluded. This way you or your assistant can know exactly which exhibits need to be pulled, shown to and covered with each witness. You also can track if you need to make an offer of proof for exhibits excluded.
I outline each element of proof for my claim(s) and list the witness and exhibit which supports each separate element of the claim(s). This way you can easily respond to a motion for a directed verdict by outlining the proof which was entered through the testimony of specific witnesses and the exhibits on your shorthand list of proof.
I have successfully used this system for trials involving dozens of witnesses and hundreds of exhibits. It is simple and it works. It also keeps your table organized and uncluttered which conveys to the jury you know what you are doing.
Lights, Camera, Action: Directing and Producing Your Trial
You are the “director” and “producer” of your trial and the witness’s testimony. We can’t change the facts, but you do have the power of when and how to present them subject to the limits of the Rules of Evidence. Indiana Rule of Evidence 611 controls the manner and mode of interrogation of witnesses. This Rule provides as follows:
Rule 611. Mode and Order of Examining Witnesses and Presenting Evidence
(a) Control by the Court; Purposes. The court should exercise reasonable control over the mode and order of examining witnesses and presenting evidence so as to:
(1) make those procedures effective for determining the truth;
(2) avoid wasting time; and
(3) protect witnesses from harassment or undue embarrassment.
(b) Scope of Cross-Examination. Cross-examination should not go beyond the subject matter of the direct examination and matters affecting the witness’s credibility. The court may allow inquiry into additional matters as if on direct examination.
(c) Leading Questions. Leading questions should not be used on direct examination except as necessary to develop the witness’s testimony. Ordinarily, the court should allow leading questions:
(1) on cross-examination; and
(2) when a party calls a hostile witness, an adverse party, or a witness identified with an adverse party.
There will be times when you will have to call either the opposing party or a hostile witness to make your case. Do not forget that you are allowed to treat that witness or party as if they are on cross-examination. In all other instances, any witness called in your case in chief must not be asked leading questions. The court also has the power to limit your examination if it delves into matters which are irrelevant, repetitious, confusing, misleading, or unfairly prejudicial. Almost all evidence is prejudicial, otherwise she wouldn’t present it. It’s only when the evidence is unfairly prejudicial and the prejudice substantially outweighs its probative value that it may be excluded. (IRE 403) With these thoughts in mind let’s delve into the organization of your questioning.
A witness’s testimony has to have a clear beginning, middle and end. The beginning typically involves laying out the witness’s personal background and their opportunity to observe. Usually at the beginning of the examination you are establishing for the jury why they should find your witness a reliable source of information.
The middle part of the testimony is typically the meat of the matter you need to address with the jury. Remember, you might know the case like the back of your hand but the jury doesn’t. As a result, it’s important to address issues in a chronological fashion and to avoid the use of pronouns. This is true not only for your questions, but the witness’s answers as well. A jury will easily get lost if you do not use the names of the persons involved. When it comes to your client, never use the word “plaintiff” or “defendant”. That sounds like your client is not a human. You want the jury to connect with your client on a personal level. Once you’ve established in a clear fashion as part of a witness’s testimony that the opposing party identity (for example “the plaintiff, John Smith”) you might want to resort to using the term “plaintiff” or “defendant” in referring to the other party.
Finally, always end the witness’s testimony on a high note. Try to structure your examination so that you leave your strongest point with the jury as you sit down. Remember the power of primacy and recency effect. People tend to remember that which they hear first or which they have heard most recently. The first item in a list is initially distinguished from earlier activities as important (primacy effect) and may be transferred to long-term memory by the time of recall. Items at the end of the list are still in short-term memory (recency effect) at the time of recall.