No matter how famous you get, you’re never above the law. Last June Justin Bieber skipped his scheduled deposition in favor of some face-time with his current love interest Hailey Baldwin. This, in strict legal terms, is called a no-no. In fact, under certain circumstances it could land Bieber in jail.
What is a Deposition?
So what is a deposition? It sounds like a fancy legal term but it’s really just when a party to a law suit is required to sit down and answer questions under oath. Most commonly, attorneys for both parties are present with a stenographer (a court reporter who creates a word for word transcript of the questions and answers). The deponent (the person being questioned) swears to give truthful answer to every question.
Sounds simple, right? Well, the process may seem simple but it can feel like the legal equivalent of chewing broken glass. The questions can be very personal and you may be asked to admit to behavior you never thought would become public. This can all add up to a very bad day. It’s no wonder celebrities want to avoid depositions at all costs.
While painful, depositions are a legal right under Georgia law. A person who files a law suit has a right to ask questions and get truthful answers about the facts of their case or find information that will allow them to prove an element of their claim. Without this ability a car accident victim might not be allowed to discover that the other driver had a history of drunk driving or whether a doctor who operated on them had a history of patient complaints.
Showing Up for Depositions
But can a person just decide not to show up to their deposition? No, not really. There are two ways to notify a person that they need to sit down for questioning. First, the two opposing lawyers can negotiate a convenient time and location. Second, a person might receive a subpoena requiring them to appear at a certain place and time. Skipping out on either can land you in the cross hairs of the judge.
Courts have wide discretion to administer the cases before them including holding someone in contempt, issuing a warrant for their arrest, dismissing their case, or awarding sanctions (typically in the form fines but sometimes worse). In Bieber’s case the opposing lawyer asked the judge to issue a warrant for Bieber’s arrest and fine him $1,000 for every day he refused to attend the deposition.
What Beiber Could Expect at a Deposition
Assuming you’re smarter than Justin Bieber and you decide to show up for your deposition, what’s going to happen? In most cases depositions are held at a lawyer’s office, in a conference room, away from other people. You lawyer will be there as well as the opposing lawyer. A stenographer will ask you to take an oath to tell the whole truth because lying in a deposition is perjury. Trust me – you do not want to lie. Lying in depositions could earn you jail time, damage your case, ruin your credibility to a jury if you’re called to testify in court, and the list goes on. There’s just no upside to untruthful answers.
Some other tips for depositions:
- Breathe: Take a deep breath, calm down, and relax. Most depositions are not what you see on television, they’re boring and tedious, so there’s no need to stress out.
- Clarity: If you don’t understand a question, ask for it to be re-stated, or rephrased. Lawyers love words and long sentences – if you’re confused ask for clarification.
- Brevity: Brevity is a fancy legal word that means “short”, in other words, keep your answers short. There’s no use providing the other side with lots of information that’s irrelevant to the question asked. Answer the question and then stop.
- Listen: It’s likely your mind will be racing because you’ll be nervous but slow down and listen. The question the lawyer asks may not be exactly what you expect. Make sure to answer exactly what is asked, not what you “think” a lawyer is asking.
- Be polite: Again, this is not television. For the most part lawyers are polite to each other and civil, otherwise the machinery of the justice system grinds to a halt. Be polite, always, no matter how intense the questioning.
- The Truth: Again, there is no upside in lying. The lie will always be exposed and your credibility ruined or worse. Tell the truth, period.
And finally, it goes without saying that you actually need to show up to your deposition. Your lawyer can walk you through all the details; they are your advocate. Don’t worry, your attorney has your back. If you’re called on to give a deposition, remember, knowledge is power and now you know a lot more about what’s going to happen.