How to examine untruthful deponents

By John Allison 

Most people who give a deposition do their best to tell the truth. Yet some deponents stretch the truth to support their position, while others tell stories that are completely fabricated.

When taking the deposition of a person who is not telling the truth, two principles should guide your examination of the deponent:

- Ask questions that encourage the deponent to tell his or her story in as much detail as possible. Your goal is to commit the witness to a story that can be disproved at trial by the testimony of other witnesses or by extrinsic evidence.

- Resist the temptation to correct or educate the deponent. Let the witness lie. Wait until trial to destroy the credibility of the witness.

Application of these principles is illustrated by the following example.

The parties to a lawsuit are next-door neighbors. The defendants are building a new house that will partially block the plaintiffs’ view of a lake. 

Plaintiffs filed suit seeking to enjoin further construction of the house based on the argument that defendants misrepresented the height of the house when their building plans were approved. To support that argument one of the plaintiffs testified in her deposition that she had a meeting in her home with one of the defendants. 

The plaintiff was encouraged to describe all the details of that meeting. She testified that the meeting took place on the outside deck of her home facing the defendants’ property. She remembered the meeting was in November because the leaves had fallen off the trees that were on the defendants’ side of the common property line. 

Those trees had since been removed by the defendants as part of their construction project. The plaintiff went on to testify that the defendant pointed to a landmark that was visible through the branches in the trees and assured the plaintiff that the height of the defendants’ house would be less than the height of the landmark.

The plaintiff told the same story at trial. The defendant then testified that the meeting related by the plaintiff never happened. The defendant further testified that she had never been in the plaintiffs’ house. 

The defendant also produced a photograph showing the trees that had been on the property line. They were not deciduous trees. They were evergreens.

Kaboom! 

The plaintiff’s credibility was destroyed. The defendants won the case.


John Allison is a professional career coach backed by years of experience as a successful lawyer. He is the founder of The Coach for Lawyers and author of "The Art of Practicing Law: A Practical Guide for Lawyers."    


 

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