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Mike Bryant
Mike Bryant
Attorney • (800) 770-7008

A Judge’s Very Helpful Look at Trial Witnesses

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Judge Hasey from Wright County has a very interesting blog that is always filled with interesting advice for all lawyers who appear in his or other courts. This past week, he took a look at getting clients ready to testify. My additional comments are in bold:

1. Have your client go to court and watch a trial for at least an hour…and not a TV judge. I have found that clients feel more comfortable after watching. Always keep in mind that they really have no idea what to really expect.
2. Explain how testimony in court differs from any deposition they may have attended. Interesting distinction to make not only for the way they are questioned, but also as to how they answer.
3. Explain how they must act in listening to their opponent’s evidence: No interrupting, no facial expressions, no shaking of the head, no whispering. Courtesy always helps and will add to the perception that the fact finder creates as they listen.
4. Explain how written documents are introduced. Practice with them if you have a binder with hundreds of pages of exhibits. Consider asking the judge to let your client sit at counsel table so you can easily show them the exhibits. Exhibits are often an afterthought, but are a vital part of presenting the case.
5. Most importantly: Explain what being responsive to the question means. If asked a "yes-or-no" question, they must answer yes or no, or I can’t answer that. No additions, no editorial comment, just answer the question. This is the key to getting through the testimony the fastest way you can and it also doesn’t create questions that come from not answering the question, but instead adding to them.
6. Be sure they understand how much time the judge has to render a decision. This is dealing with expectations and also making sure they don’t expect an answer the day of the trial.
7. Practice cross-examination with the client. Make sure they understand that they look bad if they argue with opposing counsel (something many law enforcement officers do). The law enforcement addition is especially insightful, but there always needs to be a distinction between standing up for themselves and fighting to fight.
8. Explain that they may not answer the question until the lawyer is finished asking the question. That is advice that the court reporter will love so that everything can be taken down, but it also allows them a chance to think before they answer.
9. Explain that you cannot help them when they are on the witness stand. All you can do is object. The best help we can give is preparation.
10. It shouldn’t need explaining but do so anyway: no profanity and no raising of one’s voice. I always add that it’s not a joke, so don’t be nervous and try to joke out of it.
11. Consider having them review their affidavits and deposition transcript as they will likely be cross-examined about them. This is another part of preparation. Very good point
12. Explain that when either attorney objects to a question, they must wait to answer after the judge rules on the objection and indicates whether they may answer the question.Great point which is a little thing that can make a big difference. We also will explain how the objections work and what abstained and overruled means.

13 If you feel the need, discuss your ethical obligations if your client is committing perjury. It’s important that the client knows that they need to tell the truth. That there is no secret message going out that they make things up, plus a good listener who watches can often uncover the truth.

Great information Judge.