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Articles Posted in Trials

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mountain-haze-1130128-m.jpgWe spent our last entry talking about when a trial court faced with a motion for summary judgement can consider an affidavit from an expert even though the expert was not disclosed until after the Note of Issue and Certificate of Readiness were filed. The answer, more often than not, at least in the Appellate Division, Second Department in New York: When the expert makes a difference by establishing the existence of a material issue of triable fact. See Rivers v. Birnbaum, 102 A.D.3d 26, 953 N.Y.S.2d 232 (2nd Dept. 2012), and Begley v. City of New York, 111 A.D.3d 5, 972 N.Y.S.2d 48, 72 (2nd Dept. 2013), leave to appeal denied, 23 N.Y.3d 903, 988 N.Y.S.2d 130 (2014).

Rivers v. Birnbaum, supra, and Begley v. City of New York, supra, were not the actual sea changes they might appear to be at first. Though important decisions, the rule they enunciated was applied in many cases before they were decided and the ones in which it was not applied were the exceptions that proved the rule.

King v. Gregruss Mgmt. Corp., 57 A.D.3d 851, 852-53, 870 N.Y.S.2d 103 (2nd Dept. 2008), was a personal injury action in which the plaintiff was injured when he tried to cut open a steel drum containing windshield washer fluid with an electric saw. The Second Department held that the trial court should not have considered the affidavit from the plaintiff’s expert in opposition to the defendants’ various motions for summary judgement and should have precluded the expert from testifying at any stage of the proceedings.

The expert in King v. Gregruss Mgmt. Corp., supra, undoubtedly would have made a difference. It just appears that there was no way to verify the facts on which his opinion was based and his testimony actually was more about basic, critical, and unverifiable facts, than scientific opinion. All told, the case is a fine example of a plan too smart by half, and illustrative of the type of behavior that more often than not will be penalized, if for no other reason than it should be. It is that behavior, more than the simple late disclosure of the expert, which prevented the expert’s affidavit from being considered:
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case-ilustration-1015897-m.jpgIt has been some time since we last spoke about the use of experts to oppose motions for summary judgement in New York. The topic, however, is still relevant. Some continue to believe there is a hard and fast rule, at least in the Appellate Division, Second Department, which forbids a trial court from considering an affidavit from an expert unless the party offering the expert’s affidavit served full expert’s disclosure pursuant to CPLR 3101(d)(1) prior to the filing of the Note of Issue and Certificate of Readiness or at least moved to vacate the Note of Issue and Certificate of Readiness if they had not served expert’s disclosure by then. As we pointed out in our last entries on the subject, there is no such concrete rule and there never really was. A case that should go to trial most often does; it withstands a motion for summary judgement, unless the party who uses the affidavit nefariously refused to disclose the expert in time.

There have been a series of decisions that have clarified that this is the rule. The first was Rivers v. Birnbaum, 102 A.D.3d 26, 953 N.Y.S.2d 232 (2nd Dept. 2012). Another, more recent example, is Begley v. City of New York, 111 A.D.3d 5, 972 N.Y.S.2d 48, 72 (2nd Dept. 2013), leave to appeal denied, 23 N.Y.3d 903, 988 N.Y.S.2d 130 (2014), which is especially instructive because of the way it summarizes the reasons for the rule. It holds, in relevant part:
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swing-in-a-park-1351566-m.jpgHave you ever wanted to do absolutely nothing: nothing real, nothing hard, nothing serious, at least not for a little while? Maybe lie down on the beach, read a good book, go play a round of miniature golf with your family and friends? Just be a little silly, just a little?

Remember when you were a kid, when you had the summer to yourself, to do what you wanted when you wanted with whoever you wanted? Just go find some friends and play: a game of basketball, or stickball, or maybe a game of manhunt; whatever you and your friends decided to do, however you agreed to do it. You and your friends would make up the game, and maybe the rules as you went. You’d try to be fair, make sure everyone had a shot, but still try to win. It might have been a long time ago but it still was memorable.

Well maybe all fun and games aren’t only fun and games after all. Maybe they’re a necessary part of life that can tell you a lot about a person and how they interact with others, how they handle complex social interactions, get along with people and convince them to participate in activities. Maybe, just maybe, they also can help you pick a jury. Yes, this is a law blog, and yes, everything has to get around to the law sooner or later; though it sure is fun to think of being 14 again with the whole summer in front of you.

While driving to work the other day I heard an interesting story on NPR’s Morning Edition. They were interviewing a Canadian researcher, a fellow by the name of Sergio Pellis. He was saying how important recess is to children; that countries that have more recess usually have students that perform better academically than those with less. It was more than just that, though: free play is what’s important, and the reasons were fascinating.
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dumbbells-1356802-m.jpgThere’s a new term that’s making the rounds, which might make us reconsider whether common wisdom is always wise and might make trial lawyers re-think how they select jurors: pre-crastination. As we’ll see, it means that maybe trial attorneys shouldn’t decide whether someone can be a good juror in spite of his old age and frailty, but because of them.

Everyone’s heard of procrastination: Why do something today when it can wait until tomorrow? Most people procrastinate even though they know it’s not a good idea. There might be nothing more productive than the last minute but, when you’re counting down to a deadline, you always could use more time. The right thing to do, we all know, is to get it done now, right away, with time to spare. The only problem is that might lead us to make bad choices and irrational decisions.

We previously wrote about how older jurors might be a better fit for some cases. They generally have a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from. It might take them a little longer to come to an answer, but that’s because of the large amount of information they have to process, not necessarily because they are becoming feeble minded. Maybe, if you can convince them, they can sway the other members of the jury for you. That, however, may not be the only reason to select an elderly juror.
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Box.Outside.book.small - Copy.jpgTrial lawyers are problem solvers. That is what they have to do and what their clients expect them to do. The biggest problem they face is how to persuade a jury. After all, the last time a trial went completely as planned was probably the first time one ever did.

Trial attorneys often rely on experts, and expertise, to win their case. The idea is that the average juror will recognize that the experts, whether lawyers or expert witnesses, know best and will follow along. The best way to solve a problem, though, just might be to think outside the box, which is something experts, including trial attorneys, do not always do best.

New research shows that finding creative solutions, from unexpected places, often leads to the best results, and that average people often can solve even complex, highly technical, problems better than experts and computers alike. Though the research has to do with molecular science, it sheds light on how you can win a trial.

Researchers, from Carnegie Mellon and Stanford University, have set out to better understand how RNA, which is one of the three macromolecules essential for human life, is designed. The hope is that this can lead to better ways to treat, or even cure, diseases or, believe it or not, even lead to building better computers, with RNA.

Normally the researchers would have done what they do best: conduct the research themselves. They would have used their knowledge, training, and experience to try to come up with the best designs. This time, however, they did something different: they invited people who had absolutely no special training, to design RNA. Surprisingly, or maybe not, those average people came up with far better designs than the experts.
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thread-spool-1378256-m.jpgLying and Insurance Fraud go together. Cheat, steal, get caught, admit it; which one doesn’t belong? Better yet, be honest when you cheat. No, that doesn’t work either. Most every time someone tries to get away with something he shouldn’t, chances are he’s going to lie about it somewhere along the line. Investigators need to know how to ask questions, elicit answers, and get at the truth; so, chances are, they should all know a good lie when they hear one.

Detecting, and exposing, lies also is a big part of trial work. A trial attorney wants to make certain that the jury at least will doubt, if not see right through, slanted testimony; will see the inconsistencies, understand the contradictions, and punish the lies; or even scoff at the willful forgetfulness. Cross-examination, impeachment in general, and artful closing arguments all can accomplish this. Knowing a lie is essential to ensuring that everyone else does, too.

Everyone thinks they know a lie when they hear one. They believe they can tell the difference between a deliberate falsehood and an innocent mistake. That’s probably one reason lying is the focus of so much comedy. Think of the Jon Lovitz character from Saturday Night Live, with his blatant lies getting cackles from the studio audience. Then compare him to poor little Emily Litella who seemed to spend most of her time trapped in an endless game of telephone, never getting things quite right, wondering what all the commotion was about violins on TV. Or think about how funny it was to see Jim Carrey playing a slick attorney in the movie Liar Liar, who, for 24 hours straight, had to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Some lawyers, I mean every lawyer, thought that was funny; yeah, that’s the ticket.
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tranquility-1-998521-m.jpgWe’ve spent a decent amount of time discussing how lawyers try to persuade people. That, after all, really is their job: to convince a decision maker, be it a judge, jury, or appellate court, that their client is right and should have won, should live to fight another day, or at least should not have lost quite as badly as he did.

Does the way a lawyer persuades depend on the means by which he has to do it? Does it really make a difference if the lawyer is standing up before a jury or a judge at trial; laying out the case for why his client is entitled to judgement as a matter of law on a summary judgement motion; or is writing a brief on appeal? Does the art of persuasion depend on the means of persuasion, or is it more universal than that?

It’s not always easy to figure out why one side wins and one side loses. A lawyer can only play the hand he’s dealt, but he can do a lot to get everything out of the cards that he’s been given. Whether it’s Victor Sifuentes, Alicia Florrick, Joyce Davenport, or Jack McCoy, no two attorneys approach the same case the same way, and winning is never as easy as it looks on TV. When real life attorneys try to persuade, though, the successful ones always seem to keep the basics in mind.
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carrot-and-potato-726930-m.jpgHow do you prepare a witness to testify at trial? That seems like a fair question; but what’s the best way to do it? It seems like there are as many different answers as there are people to answer it.

Everyone knows that when you have a trial, you need witnesses, and, no matter what kind of case, those witnesses need to testify. If a plaintiff sues a defendant, chances are that the plaintiff will testify about how the defendant caused her all sorts of injury, pain and suffering, heartache and grief, and should pay her an awful lot of money as a result. Likewise, the Defendant most likely will testify that he didn’t hurt anyone or anything; maybe it was all her fault, and, no matter whose fault it was, she wasn’t hurt that badly anyway. The same is pretty much true for any commercial dispute: the buyer will say she bought the part the seller recommended and it didn’t work as advertised so she wants her money back. The seller will say he gave the buyer exactly what she asked for and, if the part really didn’t work, the buyer must have installed it the wrong way in the wrong application.
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pool-1425956-m.jpgTrying cases in New York is fun; not the everyday let’s have a good laugh fun, but an exhilarating, team play, goal accomplished, touchdown, kind of fun. Dealing with jurors is a big part of the job: selecting them; persuading them; deferring to their decisions. Trial work and jurors: you can’t have one without the other.

It’s been a year since the Storm hit. In this part of the world, New York, New Jersey, and Long Island, that’s all you have to call it. Things were one way, always that way, and then Superstorm Sandy hit and everything changed. Lives changed; many aren’t back to normal. Homes were destroyed; many aren’t rebuilt yet. The Storm did a number on us; all you had to do was walk around the streets of Lindenhurst or Long Beach, or the walks of Breezy Point, after the Storm to see that. Even areas far from the Sound, the Ocean, or the Bays, were hurt: no power for two weeks is no fun. Gas lines and odd-even days weren’t even fun when Happy Days was on.
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pile-of-books-2-1272855-m.jpgWhat does a trial attorney do and what does it mean to be a trial attorney? These two seemingly simple questions, with their seemingly simple answers, actually go a long way towards uncovering some of the most common misperceptions about one of the most passionate, and arduous, fields in law. To put it simply, a trial attorney persuades and learns, or learns and persuades; however you put it, he never stops doing either.

Business owners, homeowners, friends and acquaintances have asked those questions many times; often with a knowing smile, an implied understanding that a trial lawyer really is a jack of all trades and master of none. It takes skill to conduct a trial, to be sure, the reasoning goes, but it’s not as if a trial lawyer has to know any one particular area of substantive law, or any one particular industry or type of dispute, well, in order to conduct a trial. If you ask anyone that has tried cases, you will find out how far off base that really is. To know how to be a good trial attorney you have to know not only the “how” but also the “what;” in fact, the “what” is so intertwined with the “how” that they really are one and the same thing.

When you try a case the procedure is important. It’s a battle and you have to know the rules of engagement so you can use them honestly and fairly to your client’s advantage. Every trial lawyer knows that what you don’t know can and will hurt you, but realizes that knowing more than your opponent helps tip the scales in your favor. Of course you need to know the mechanics; how to pick a jury, conduct a direct and cross-examination, give an opening statement and closing argument are all important. The better the trial lawyer the better each is executed.