Video Depositions

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13Aug2008

Video Depositions

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Deposition transcripts are easily portable and searchable, which makes them ideal for tasks such as writing briefs and preparing issues for trial. So, while some courts have implemented audio recording systems for hearings and trials – which may only be transcribed when needed for filing an appeal – audio recording has never really caught on for depositions. When it comes to presenting evidence to a jury, however, reading from a piece of paper, or displaying it on a screen, just doesn’t do the job.

“I think it is imperative that the jury gets to see what the witness looks like if the witness isn’t available at trial,” says George W. “Skip” Murgatroyd, III. “You never know whether the witness will be available or not, so it is just smart to take a videotaped deposition.”

Murgatroyd, of counsel to Los Angeles’s Baum Hedlund, specializes in class actions and complex litigation. He is currently working on cases in several jurisdictions regarding GlaxoSmithKline’s Paxil antidepressant. On December 19, the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred to and consolidated these cases in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California for purposes of pretrial discovery.

There have been times when he went to trial with only a written transcript to replace an absent witness. He says that it made for flat and basically useless testimony.

“It’s also confusing for the jurors to have the attorney sitting on the stand, all of a sudden, reading the transcript,” he continues. “It does not work.”

But, even if the witness is present for trial, video still offers certain advantages. One benefit he cites is that opposing counsel tend to be more civil when on tape. There are fewer snide comments or yelling matches when not just the words, but the tone of each remark, is being recorded as well. When preparing for trial, he also reviews videos of witnesses deposed by other attorneys to get a feel for how they respond to questioning. Then, when it comes time for trial, a video makes a more powerful tool for impeaching a witness than simply reading from a transcript.

Murgatroyd advises that attorneys taking video depositions thoroughly prepare their line of questioning ahead of time so they clearly lay out the desired information in a proper sequence to make it easy for the jurors to understand. One also doesn’t want to be hesitant or fumbling around with the questions, things which are much more obvious on video than on a piece of paper.

“You want to be smooth,” he says.

To simplify your life, Atkinson-Baker offers complete video services which can be booked at the same time as the deposition. Videos are available on tape, DVD or CD. Video synchronized to the transcript is also available and can then be imported into litigation support software. We have scheduled videographers for more than 10,000 depositions over the past fifteen years, and can get you one anywhere in the country. This makes it easier to add this powerful presentation tool to your trial arsenal. “I never take a deposition without a video,” says Murgatroyd.

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