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Defense Counsel may not disrupt depositions with objections that suggest an answer, instruct witnesses not to answer, etc.

CASE: Peronis v. United States, Valley Med. Facilities, Inc. REFERENCE: (W. D. Pa., February 17, 2017) 2: 16-cv-01389-NBF Document 44 CASE LOCATION: Allegheny Co., PA.

The Peronis case involved the birth of a baby girl, who died soon after birth. At the beginning of the case, the Court held a conference, wherein the issue of discovery practices was discussed. Specifically, we raised the concern that in the depositions of the witnesses, it was the practice of counsel for the defendants to interrupt the questioning of their witnesses with objections, instructions or suggestions on how to answer the questions. This practice in turn leads to a fractured deposition, where questions do not get answered, and the lawyers play more of a role than the witness.

We raised this issue with the Court under the auspices of the Court being allowed to monitor discovery practices. The Court allowed motions to be filed to determine whether or not the Court could venture into discovery practices in the early stages of the case. We argued that the Court could do so by issuing a discovery plan, and the Court agreed.

The Court then issued guidelines for the parties to adhere to when conducting depositions, such as counsel is not permitted to make objections or statements which would suggest an answer to the witness, and objections must be succinct, stating the basis of the objection and nothing more. In addition, counsel is not permitted to direct a witness not to answer a question, unless there is a recognized privilege. Also, there should be no coaching of witnesses, or private off the record discussions during a deposition.

These guidelines issued by the Court were very successful in streamlining the procedure of taking the depositions, and lead to a more efficient and economical process of questioning.