Depositions are legal proceedings which are not typically officiated by a court officer. During such affairs attorneys can behave quite badly. Such behavior can range from simple rudeness to conduct that borders on criminal conduct such as threats of bodily harm or emotional charges to go outside and handle the matter like a man. Needless to say, you don’t want to be that guy. Only the trial court can legally terminate a deposition for abusive conduct by an attorney. Rule 30(d)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a party may move to terminate or limit a deposition “on the ground that it is being conducted in bad faith or in a manner that unreasonably annoys, embarrasses or oppresses the deponent or party.” If the deposition is terminated you must immediately seek the trial court’s assistance and approval.
This not a course to chart unless it is justified. You and you client can be subject to sanctions and even disciplinary action for improperly terminating a deposition. See Rule of Professional Conduct 3.4. If you guess wrong and do not terminate the deposition properly, you can be responsible for paying the other party’s attorney fees. Smith v. Logansport School Corp., 139 F.R.D. 637 (N.D. Ind. 1991). Here is a famous example of things going south during a deposition courtesy of YouTube:
So be ready if abusive behavior occurs during a deposition. Act quickly and wisely… and remember don’t be that guy.
“Practice… We talkin ’bout practice.” – Allen Iverson 2002
Just like Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia Sixers, no one likes to practice, but it is necessary if your witness and you are going to stay in sync. In order for your witness examination to be credible and persuasive, both the questioner and the witness must be on the same page. Otherwise, the testimony will come across like two ships passing in the night. The only way to get a smooth and flawless examination is for the questioner and witness to know exactly what is expected by the other. Obviously, the most important witness is usually your own client. Any run-through with your client is privileged as attorney-client communications because you are providing legal advice about how to handle their direct examination. (IRE 501 and I.C.34-1-14-5 and I.C. 34-1-60-4.) I would videotape the client’s testimony and allow them to see it so they can critique their own the delivery of their testimony.
Make sure you give the witness or your client copies of any earlier statements/depositions and, if possible, have them return to the scene of the incident to check it, note landmarks and refresh their recollection. If at all possible, you should try to meet with the witness or client at the scene of the incident so that you can discuss the scene and make sure you’re both talking about the same thing. If this is not possible, an acceptable substitute is to conduct a virtual tour of the scene utilizing Google maps or Google Earth.
Emphasize to the client or witness that accuracy is the most important thing. This requires that they clearly understand the question and avoid any exaggerations or opinions. They should stay factual in their descriptions. When a witness or client slides into opinions, they enter dangerous territory. They are prone to guess, speculate, exaggerate or just plain get it wrong.
My own favorite saying is: “Don’t take a good case, try to make it a great case, and turn it into a bad case.” The first rule I learned when as an insurance defense attorney was to let a plaintiff exaggerate all they want. There is nothing that undermines a claim or gives rise to the all-popular defense mantra of “secondary gain” than needless exaggeration.
The flip side of this is to water down answers with qualifiers such as, “I think,” “I believe,” or, “In my opinion,” when they actually know the facts. Make sure your client or witness avoids using such terminology. It is better to show that you don’t know or recall than to guess or speculate. Also, pay attention to clients who raise the pitch of their voice at the end of sentences. It makes them sound tentative or like they are checking with you on whether their answer is correct. You should only raise the pitch of your voice at the end of a sentence when you are asking a question.
Once again, the primary rule is to answer truthfully and accurately.
It costs you nothing to be a gentleman or lady. However, a lack of civility can be very costly. The manner in which a witness or party testifies is critical to their credibility and understandability to the jury. You want witnesses to testify in a natural manner, but they need to be understood and well received. If you have a witness who talks a mile a minute, then the best way to persuade them that they need to speak in a slower and more measured tone is to allow them to see exactly how they testify.
I will typically meet with a witness or a client and, through the magic of a cell phone or iPad, record the testimony and then allow them to view it. I then asked the witness or client to tell me what they see and how they would improve such a witness’s testimony if they were in my position. Most people will be a harder critic of themselves than you could ever be. After we discuss problems with their testimony and their manner of delivery, I covered the same line of questioning again and let them watch the new video.
The only thing a client or witness has absolute control over is their behavior and demeanor. By emphasizing this point, you can both empower them and relax them. No matter how rude or aggressive the other attorney is, it’s important for them to remain calm and composed. When an opposing attorney senses he has drawn blood, he will simply bore in with more of the same. A client or witness can tactically overcome this by simply remaining calm and truthful no matter how bad the answer seems to hurt.
Likewise, the client or witness needs to be cautioned to avoid any sarcasm, insincere or solicitous comments. Remember, this is their chance to make a good impression and show they will be a likeable and empathetic witness to the jury. It’s not their job is not to exchange verbal jabs with the other attorney. There is an old saying, “If you wrestle with a pig, you’re bound to get dirty.” Don’t let your client or witness get dirty with the other attorney. Ultimately, they will lose
If you are suing an organization, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the provisions of Rule 30(b)(6). Rule of Procedure 30(b)(6) provides in pertinent part:
Notice or Subpoena Directed to an Organization. In its notice or subpoena, a party may name as the deponent a public or private corporation, a partnership, an association, a governmental agency, or other entity and must describe with reasonable particularity the matters for examination. The named organization must then designate one or more officers, directors, or managing agents, or designate other persons who consent to testify on its behalf; and it may set out the matters on which each person designated will testify. A subpoena must advise a nonparty organization of its duty to make this designation. The persons designated must testify about information known or reasonably available to the organization. This paragraph (6) does not preclude a deposition by any other procedure allowed by these rules.
The organization (not you) has the obligation of designating the person or persons needed to adequately answer the questions posed in the various designated areas you wish to ask questions. You as the deposing party have the burden of meeting the “reasonable particularity” requirement of adequately designating the subject areas of questioning. The statements given by the person(s) designated by the organization bind the organization as an admission of a party-opponent.
This is not necessarily the case when a statement is given by a low-level employee who is not a “member of the limited liability company” or officer/director of a corporate organization since their statements only bind the organization if they are:
1) made within the scope of their authority and
2) the person is still employed and has a relationship with the organization.
Under Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2), “non-hearsay” for the “admission of a party-opponent” is defined as follows:
(d) Statements which are not hearsay. A statement is not hearsay if –
* * *
(2) Admission by party-opponent. The statement is offered against a party and is (A) the party’s own statement, in either an individual or a representative capacity or (B) a statement of which the party has manifested adoption or belief in its truth, or (C) a statement by a person authorized by the party to make a statement concerning the subject, or (D) a statement by the party’s agent or servant concerning a matter within the scope of the party’s agency or employment, made during the existence of the relationship, or (E) a statement by a coconspirator of a party during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy.
A Rule 30(b)(6) declarant/deponent’s answers to questions during the deposition are considered a “statement by a person authorized by the party to make a statement about the subject“. The organization can only authorize such a statement if the area of questioning has been identified in the deposition notice. The trick is to make sure your designation of the areas of questioning is specific enough to cover the questions you wish to pursue during the deposition. Otherwise, the organization is free to argue that they were not authorized to make the statement and bind the organization. One caveat to this point, is that the organization likely has a duty to raise the objection at the time of the deposition if the problem could have been obviated at the time of the deposition by making a clarification in the question. Rule 32(d)(3)(A) states that “[a]n objection to a deponent’s competence—or to the competence, relevance, or materiality of testimony—is not waived by a failure to make the objection before or during the deposition, unless the ground for it might have been corrected at that time.”
If the opposing party designates the wrong person or fails to prepare them they risk possible discovery sanctions and ill-considered and ill-conceived answers to critical questions in the litigation. The burden is on the organization to properly prepare and name as many people needed to answer your questions. It is kind of like obtaining requests for admissions from your opponent on the fly. It can be very powerful tool you can use to box in your opponent.