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.