DEPOSITIONS IN FAMILY LAW CASES from SANTA ROSA, NAPA, MARIN, MENDOCINO COUNTY ATTORNEY
The first thing you need to know is that family law attorneys, generally speaking, are accustomed to abusing the discovery process during depositions. Ever since I decided to take time to read up on the laws regarding depositions, I have had to suspend almost every deposition I have taken because the attorneys, almost without exception, make improper objections and direct their clients to not answer. I then have to threaten them with a motion to compel responses, usually resulting in them bleeding out responses or some other capitulation. If you stand your ground a deposition, you will usually get results. Here is a list of the top problems in depositions in family law cases:
Making objections over “scope” or “relevance”: simply put, these are bullshit objections that no attorney should consider making or getting away with making. The scope of discovery is “relevant to the subject matter”, which is a HUGE distinction. It does not matter whether it is hearsay, or inadmissible, or any of the other objections you can make at a trial. If this objection is made, make a note in the record, continue the deposition on anything else you can get an answer on, and then continue the deposition so you can file a motion to compel. Meet and confer on the record. Lawyers should not do this and the courts should severely sanction attorneys who do this. The attorney is basically setting themselves up as the court to make a decision they are not entitled to make. This practice must stop.
Making any objection other than one based on privilege or form of the question in which the deponent might not understand the answer. I realize relevance objections are in that category, but I gave relevance objections their own place here because it is such a common and egregious violation of the rules. The one sticky area is when third-party privacy rights come in. Deponents should not be asserting the rights of parties who are not present but it can be a legitimate objection.
Speaking objections: You would not allow an attorney to start talking to your witness during cross-examination in court, so why would it be okay in a deposition? It does not matter if they are “trying to help” or whatever. They need to make a proper objection and shut up. If a proper objection is made, the court can refuse to admit the answer. The deponent still needs to answer the question.
Refusal to produce documents: if the deponent has not produced documents they were supposed to, continue the depo to file a motion to compel.
Evasive answers: do not permit someone to get away with being evasive and not answering a question. Keep asking it, or ask it in a different way until you get an answer. Some deponents will wear you down and you might miss a key question.
Stopping in the middle of a question: Don’t allow it. Once the question is asked, you are entitled to an answer.
Coaching: I have actually had a deponent say he didn’t remember something, then his lawyer tell him he can answer, and then he answered the question. Unfortunately, the court in that particular case let the attorney and client do and say whatever they wanted. This rarely happens, and is the kind of thing that you want to make a record of iF the case ends up on appeal. In this case, the lawyer stood up, started yelling hysterically at me and had to be removed from the room. Bullies do not like being confronted. Do not let yourself be bullied, but also make sure you look good on the record. Apologize frequently and inject good manners and humor into any situation as best you can without backing down.