WORKING WITH AND EXAMINING PLAINTIFFS AND DAMAGES WITNESSES Janine L. Hoft & Melinda L. Power June 2018, Chicago, IL

 

I. Examination of Plaintiffs in Civil Rights Cases

         A. Preparation

                  *Case Theory and Plaintiff Testimony

What need from witness?

                  *Strategy to Deal with Weaknesses

                           Best to front

                  *Identify strengths

                           What are important areas to get out

                           Prioritize

*Study deposition testimony, other statements

         Plaintiff’s prior and other witnesses

                  *Discuss impeachment, explanations for discrepancies or                               deviations in Plaintiff’s prior statements or with other

                           witnesses

 

                  *Anticipate Cross

                           They will emphasize weaknesses

                                    Bring weaknesses out but not first or last

                           Attempt to impeach credibility

                  *Both lawyer and client

                           Understand and empathize with client and story

         B. Practice

                  *Client comfortable and at ease

                  *Consider practicing with client in the courtroom

                  *Consider practicing with other people present

                  *Important to understand each other’s language

                  *Not so sounds rehearsed, so you can engage in dance

                  *Prompt witness to bring out what you know is                                        there and practice how to present it

                  * Practice cross-examination with witness

                           Discuss pace, listening to and understanding                                                            questions

                           Try out possible questions

                           How to deal with areas of weakness

         C. Organize Examination

                  *Simple, understandable, logical flow

                           Chronological

                  *Areas of inquiry, not specific questions

                           Review elements of claims

                           Break up into episodes of story

                                    Plan transitions to each new episode

                                             Close one, break flow, start another

                  *Creativity

                           How to keep interesting

                                    (15-20 minute attention span)

                           Use of exhibits, demonstrations

                                    After first run through, to highlight not distract

                  *Anticipate objections

                           Know FRE, Motions in Limine rulings

                           Areas off limits and consequences  

                           Admissibility of exhibits             

         D. Presentation of testimony     

                  *Discuss with client how to present evidence,

                           i.e. if you say things this way, it will help the jury to                               understand what you really mean to say

                          

                  *Client to view testimony to jury as if telling friend                                         story of what happened to you

                  *Speak clearly, simply

                           Avoid so-called “powerless speech” hedging (“I think”                              “sort of) hesitation (“well” “um”) frequent use of                                           intensifiers (“surely” “very definitely”)

                  *Consider posture, reactions, facial expressions, gestures

                 

                  * Look at jury during testimony

                  *Manner of dress

                           Present client’s personality

                           Review wardrobe in advance                

         E. Execute Examination

                  *More it sounds like story the better

                  *Focus on Witness

                           Be interested in what witness says

                                    Be empathetic

                           Witness to Dominate

                           Testimony from witness not examiner

                           Lawyer’s position

                                    Maximize witness contact with jury, minimize                                         lawyer

                                    Change position to highlight important testimony,                                           move in closer

                           Give witness time to fully answer, don’t interrupt

                  *Questions simple, direct, nonleading, no unusual, complex or                               highfalutin phrases

                           Assist telling of story

                           Have witness explain

                           Use introductory and transition questions

                                    Easier to follow, retain, like headings to a brief

                  *Pace

                           To keep interesting

                           Slow down important/major information

                           Avoid unimportant testimony and tangents

                           Follow up with detailed questions on important matters

                           Change up: “Now think about question carefully and tell                                  jury…”

                                    [Experience: all know witnesses who can’t stay on                                            point, maybe nerves]

                           Avoid sounding like going through a checklist

                  *Watch and listen to witness

                           Follow up on partial, incomplete, potentially                                                    misunderstood answers

                           Don’t be stuck to your outline/questions

                                    May miss what witness saying

                                    Respond to witness

                  *Watch Jurors

                           See how they are reacting to testimony

                           Told to focus on witness/not jurors

                  *End with a bang, a strength

                           Something important

                                    Jury will retain what is most recent

         F. Special Concerns

                  *Emotional testimony

                           Be authentic

                           Jurors may react negatively, undermine credibility                                          and likeability

                                    Don’t want to identify with victims, by now                                                      witness should be over

                                             Fits in with “Reptile” but contrary to                                                        continuing damages

                  *Damages

                           Prison experience

                           PTSD

                           Relationships

II. Examination of Damages Witnesses in Civil Rights Cases

         A. Preparation

                  *Case Theory

                           What need from witness

                                    Depending on effectiveness of plaintiff

                           Testimony consistent with plaintiff, other witnesses

                  *Get to know witness

                           Talk about experience with plaintiff, impressions

                           Identify testimony

                           Use specific examples, anecdotes

                           (Experience: Avery and Harris, good chunk of time just                                    getting to know witness and relationship to plaintiff in                                  order to pull out what will be most effective, what aspect                          of damages they can speak to, can’t go in                                                  with preconceived notions, kid missing father)

         B. Organize Examination

                  *Similar to above

                                    Simple, areas of inquiry, creativity

                  *Get in and get out

         C. Execute Examination

                  *Similar to above

                  *Elicit facts and details not conclusions    

                  *Start and end with something interesting if possible,                                              but keep entire testimony focused and interesting

                  *Focus on witness, simple questions, use pacing

                           Know well enough to adjust questions

                  *Don’t ignore jury

III. Redirect Examinations

         A. Explanation of anticipated impeachment

         B. Restate most important testimony

         C. Only important issues

        

Attachments:

         Direct of plaintiff William Avery in Avery v. City of Milwaukee      

         Direct of Avery’s aunt, damages witness

                  Wrongful conviction case 

         Direct of plaintiff’s public defender, damages witness

                  Malicious Prosecution case

         Direct of Decedent’s sister in Gomes v. Lake County

                  Wrongful death in custody case

 

Sources:

 

Trial experiences and observations of the authors;

ProCLECenter, Client and Witness Preparation Strategies, Jesse Wilson,                June 5, 2018

Fundamentals of Trial Techniques, 3rd Edition, Chapter IV Direct          Examination, Thomas A. Mauet, Little, Brown and Company, 1992

The Trial Process: Law, Tactics & Ethics, Chapter 6 Direct Examinations,       7/31/02

Prepare your Plaintiff for Direct Testimony, A.H. Dudnik, Cleveland State      Law Review, 1957, Engaged Scholarship@CSU