By Hon. (Ret.) Ken E. Adair
Don’t Let Spectators Coach Your Witness
Video Transcribed: One of the first things I learned when I became a district judge is what happens behind the bar while lawyers are sitting at the counsel table with their clients or with their police officer and facing me and arguing with me, or calling witnesses into the witness stand off to my side and asking witnesses questions.
And what I saw rather frequently, something I never saw in 17 years of law practice was that there are people behind the bar that are nodding answers to a witness on the witness stand, shaking their heads, mouthing the word, “November, not October. It was November.”
Or they’re mouthing other answers, or they’re holding up their fingers. It was two days or it was five days and I was mortified. And I wasn’t mortified that it was happening because it was happening and it was happening quite a lot. Once every couple of weeks I’d see something like that, and a lot of it’s innocent.
They’re just sitting there like spectators watching a movie like, ‘No, no, that’s not true.” But the fact is it’s not appropriate. And in 17 years of legal practice, I never noticed it behind me. Not once. Never saw it. What I realized is that happens a lot.
And I don’t know that anybody’s ever told the lawyers this. And I don’t know if the lawyers know this, but you got to be really careful about when you see a witness may be glancing out into the gallery, be aware of the fact that sometimes witnesses are being, at least inadvertently, if not insidiously, if not absolutely intentionally, being coached from the gallery behind you.
It’s one of those odd things that I learned about being a judge. There were a lot of things I learned about being a judge that that surprised me. And most of it was about how terrible of a lawyer I must have been when I was practicing law.
But don’t take for granted that people behind you are not coaching witnesses on the witness stand, and I’d tell you to be very attentive to that possibility. And again, just don’t take it for granted. I hope this has been a little bit helpful. Look forward to hearing from you again and thank you for watching.
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