Recently, Johnny Depp has made the news with his wife’s allegations of his domestic violence countered by his assertions of her mental illness in their ongoing celebrity divorce action. The couple was married on February 3, 2015 before the scheduled wedding date because they “just couldn’t wait” and were “so much in love.” The marriage lasted until a dramatic separation on May 23, 2016, just under 16 months later. Now the entire world is privy to what should be private matters and the parties are making sure that everyone knows their side of the story by choosing to place everything not in front of a judge, but in front of the public. Most recently, Amber Heard refused to allow her deposition to be taken. You may be thinking to yourself, “Oh, no! Not poor Amber!” Or perhaps you have decided, “The lady is an obvious nut case!” But some of you may be thinking, “What’s a deposition?” or “She must know, she’s rich and famous. Should I try to avoid my scheduled deposition?” Well, I can’t speak to whether Amber or Johnny is the wronged person or just the wrong person, but I can help with the deposition questions.
A deposition is discovery tool used by attorneys to gather information about the facts of a case by asking questions of a person in an out of court location (usually the attorney’s office) and obtaining his or her sworn testimony. A court reporter records the questions asked and the answers given so that a verbatim written transcript of the deposition may be prepared. Depositions may also be videotaped. They can provide information as to why someone is taking a specific position, what facts or beliefs the party’s position is based upon, or show the other party’s ability to present himself or herself to the court. We have an article on our website entitled “Being Your Best Witness at Your Deposition”. It does not suggest making a dramatic entrance, providing information in the form of tearful utterances unrelated to anything asked, or filling silences with a soliloquy about the other party’s faults. Quite the contrary, a short version of our advice is:
- For all your legal matters, not just a deposition: Dress like the matter is important to you. Be on time. Be polite. Be prepared.
- Always tell the truth to the best of your recollection. Don’t worry about answering that you don’t remember some particular fact. Quite often a deposition or trial may take place many years after the incident you are asked about, No one is expected to have a photographic memory of past events. Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated into answering in an untruthful way, or guessing at an answer. Answer what you do know; say that you can’t recollect the rest.
- If you don’t understand a question, don’t hesitate to say that you don’t and ask that it be repeated or re-asked in a simpler way, so that you can understand it. Lawyers may be so familiar with legal terms they forget other people aren’t. Some attorneys like to use 4 syllable words where a 2 syllable one would do just as well. And some throw a bunch of stuff into one question and you are not sure which part of the question you are answering.
- Don’t volunteer any information! Answer the question as courteously and briefly as possible. If a one-word answer (“yes” or “no”) will suffice, then use it. Don’t volunteer information; after you’ve answered the question, stop.
- Answer only the question asked. If you are asked to describe the color of the sky, do not describe the color of the grass, no matter how important you feel it is.
- Don’t be a smart aleck! No cute answers. This is a serious part of the lawsuit. No matter how friendly the person on the other side taking your deposition may appear to be, that person is not your friend. Remember, your testimony is being recorded and will be put in written form. Sarcasm does not translate in a written record.
- Don’t rush your answer. Sometimes the other lawyer will speed up the pace of the questioning, hoping to lead you to blurt out something that you might not otherwise wish to mention. Give your attorney the opportunity to object to the question. If the other lawyer starts to shout or tries to intimidate you, just follow your own lawyer’s instructions: if your lawyer instructs you not to answer, then don’t! If the other attorney isn’t happy, the issue can be brought into court, where a judge will look at the transcript and decide what, if anything, needs to be done.
- And remember, if you testify differently in court, your answers to written Interrogatories or at an oral Deposition can be used to bring your truthfulness or knowledge of the events into question. Worse than that, you run the risk of being charged with the crime of perjury. This is rarely done, but it does happen.
Back to Johnny and Amber…. looks like both their attorneys appeared before a judge who said that Amber has to have her deposition taken this Friday and then Johnny will have his taken on Saturday. Maybe someone will send them our advice.