Tag Archive for: doctor

Unsettling A Complainant With The First Question

In 2011, I undertook the defense of a son whose father accused him of embezzlement, thefts and other financial crimes.  We anticipated a dogfight with the complainant, my client’s father. Why? He was a too proud man who was upset at the financial devastation that visited his veterinary practice and personal life.  He was too proud to take personal responsibility and so when he needed to open up his veterinary practice again, he used his son to do so. How? He had his son lease the space for the business and entered into a management contract with him to manage the business. However as soon as he got what he wanted, he tried to terminate his son’s contract and then claimed that his son stole hundreds of thousands of equipment and then accused the son formally causing a criminal charge.  

I defended the case and steeled myself for a difficult cross examination: a father accusing his son knows that his relationship is over and so will stop at nothing to make the charges stick.  The dad went “all in” and I figured his resistance to cross examination would be the same.  I developed a plan to throw him and make him look petty early on.  In fact, my plan was do so with the first question. 

Here it is: 

 I called him “Mister”.  Yes, I believed that he’d be a small, arrogant man and so I tested him with my first question: I referred to him as “Mr.”.  His reaction was priceless, predictable and started him off on the wrong foot.  Here it is: 

  
When he corrected me, I was a nice as could be but continued to bait him. He took the bait. 

For the remainder of the examination, he argued, evaded and fought with me.  At one point, he was caught in a terrible contradiction: property that he was claiming his son took had been paid off at a sheriff’s sale earlier in the year. How could that be? How could the same piece of equipment have still been there for his son to allegedly steal when it was seized and sold previously.  It couldn’t.  

Towards the end of my cross examination, the judge asked us to step into his chambers.  He advised us there and again on the record that he was not persuaded by the evidence and was dismissing.  He said “what’s the point of waiting to do what I’m going to down the line?”.  The case was won on killer cross examination alone. 

Throwing the witness off with the first question — killer cross examination. 

Straight Answers — The Line That Helped A Great Personal Injury Lawyer Depose A Tough Doctor

“Are you going to give me straight answers?”  A rather simple question, right?   Opposing experts in civil and criminal cases often do anything but give straight answers.  Long, twisted, curvy and evasive answers are what experts typically give to lawyers cross examining them.  How to tackle the problem?  A colleague of mine, Vince Colella of Moss & Colella,  LawyersWhoWin.com and DetroitCivilRights.com, is one of the finest personal injury lawyers in Michigan.  He is so dedicated and talented, that he has been named a Super Lawyer, a prestigious honor bestowed on only the top 5% of all lawyers in Michigan.  Recently, Vince Colella approached me to discuss a trial deposition that he was preparing for involving a particularly feisty and difficult doctor.   The doctor was being called as an expert witness by the opposing side, the insurance company.  After a few minutes of discussion, I suggested starting the deposition with a simple question — one that would catch the expert off guard and unprepared:

Are you going to give me straight answers?

You see, depositions typically begin the same way:  lawyers asking background questions, questions about the expert’s experience, work, etc.  It provides the lawyer with information but it also gives the expert a chance to get in a groove, warm up and get comfortable.  Vince elected to take a different approach.  He elected, a few questions into the deposition, to pop the question:

Are you going to give me straight answers?

The goal being to confront the expert with that stark question.  We prepared for the expert’s possible responses.  If he hemmed and hawed, Vince could challenge him right then after all, why wouldn’t he agree to just give straight answers?  Vince even planned to write it out on a sheet paper, once the expert agreed.   Whenever the expert started to go sideways, he would ask the question again using the prior commitment:

I thought you were you going to give me straight answers?

He might even use the sheet of paper.  After a while, we figured, the expert would see Vince reaching for the sheet of paper and know that he was about to get whacked.  He left to put it into action.

After the deposition, Vince returned to the office and reported back how successful this simple tactic was.  Vince asked the expert the question, “Are you going to give me straight answers?” early in the deposition, earlier than expected, and the doctor responded:  “I’ll try.”   Vince told me that he smiled at hearing that — “why would one have to try to give straight answers,” he said he thought.   But he soldiered on and periodically, the expert would attempt to offer some rubbery answer to which, Vince asked:

I thought you were going to try to give me straight answers?

After only a few incidents of having to remind the expert about his commitment to try and give straight answers, Vince relayed that the expert was controllable and manageable and that the deposition not only didn’t hurt Vince’s case but actually helped.

Sometimes doing the unorthodox or unconventional makes all the difference in the world.  This time Vince delivered a killer cross examination with one question:

Are you going to give me straight answers?

About Vince Colella

Vince Colella is a personal injury, civil rights attorney and plaintiff’s attorney representing individuals who have been injured in automobile accidents, personal injury cases and/or who have been sexually harassed or discriminated against at work.  Colella has been named a Super Lawyer in the area of plaintiff’s personal injury cases and has garnered millions of dollars in awards for clients and their families over the years.   To find out more about him, visit www.LawyersWhoWin.com.

About Rockind Law

Rockind Law is a Southfield, Michigan-based criminal defense law firm aggressively pursuing justice for individuals facing criminal charges, including white collar crime, drunk driving, narcotics and assault. To find out more about the firm’s services and resources, visit http://www.rockindlaw.com/.

About Neil Rockind

Neil Rockind is a criminal defense lawyer with offices in Southfield, Michigan.  Rockind has been named a Super Lawyer, among the Top 100 Lawyers in Michigan, among the Top 50 Lawyers in Michigan, among the Top 10 Criminal Defense Lawyers in Michigan, among the Top 100 DUI Attorneys in the United States, the Best of Detroit by Hour Magazine, a Top Criminal Defense Lawyer by Dbusiness Magazine and among the Top 100 Trial Lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers Association.  He has lectured and taught trial tactics and strategies to other lawyers and is frequent guest in the media discussing legal issues and current events.  Rockind is also the WDIV Legal Expert.