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Old Dogs Need New Tricks for Depositions

Most depositions are straightforward affairs with a lot of “objections to form” from the lawyer defending the deposition. Many, however, involve some number of objections used to remind witnesses to refrain from guessing, make sure they understand the question, and a host of other relatively benign, though technically improper, means of coaching. Such conduct is firmly rooted in the historical litigation gamesmanship that modern rules of civil procedure seek to abolish but which show little sign of extinction.

Recently, the District Court for the Northern District of Iowa took an extraordinary step toward the extinction of such conduct.   In Security Nat. Bank of Sioux City, Iowa v. Abbott Laboratories, __F.R.D. 2014, 2014 WL 3704277 (July 28, 2014), the District Courtsuaspontesanctioned a lawyer for excessive use of form objections, usingcoaching-type objections (“vague,” “ambiguous,” and, inter alia, “hypothetical”), and excessive interruptions during depositions. Id. at *1. The objections, which were noted in detail, appeared to be commonplace objections, both in quality and quantity.

Characterizing such objections as “part of the routine chicanery of federal practice,” the Court issued an order requiring the lawyer defending the deposition to show cause why he should not be sanctioned for the “serious pattern of obstructive conduct” exhibited at the deposition. Id. at *2.After a detailed review of the “hundreds of unnecessary objections and interruptions,” the court found the objections to form, objections designed to coach the witness, and otherobjections improper and worthy of sanction. Id. at * 5- 14.  

Moreover, the court held that the sheer number of the objections was excessively disruptive and stood as an independent reason to issue sanctions. Id. at *14.

The court noted that although it was “well within [its] discretion” to impose monetary sanctions, it preferred to make the sanction educational. Accordingly, the court ordered that the sanctioned counsel must write and produce a training video on proper objections and conduct at depositions.   Upon completion, the video must be distributed within his firm and to other lawyers.

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