More on Redwood v. Dobson

We earlier covered Judge Easterbrook’s opinion in the Redwood v. Dobson case. On Evan Schaeffer’s Illinois Trial Practice Blog I commented:

A censure for instructing a witness not to answer seems strict, considering the practicality that most parties would prefer that result to cutting off the deposition, and one unfortunately cannot be assured of a federal district judge who is as familiar with the current rendition of Rule 30 as Judge Easterbrook is. (Indeed, the district court judge in Redwood erroneously applied Rule 30 according to the appellate opinion.)

If one were to walk the tightrope that Redwood presents us, I would recommend objecting as follows: “We find that question objectionable. I would prefer not to suspend the deposition here to seek a protective order, but Rule 30 offers me no other alternative. Can we agree that you will postpone this question until the end of the deposition, and we’ll seek the protective order then?” By doing this, one demonstrates good faith and places the burden on the questioner of choosing to end the deposition early over this question. That’s not complete protection by any means: the questioner can stand her ground, and then still seek sanctions for the costs of a second day of deposition if the protective order is denied. It’s an elaborate game of chicken, to be sure, and I’ve been on both sides of intimidating junior attorneys and having senior attorneys try to intimidate me in that game.

Now, in the American Lawyer, Northwestern Professor Steven Lubet stakes a similar position (via Civ Pro Prof Blog):

The Seventh Circuit might have thought the Redwood decision would “defuse . . . the heated feelings” at depositions, but it may well have the reverse effect of making litigation more contentious, potentially turning every deposition into a high-stakes confrontation. Lawyers already play enough chicken, and now they’re going to have to learn a new game-truth or dare.

Lubet complains that Redwood leaves attorneys with only the nuclear option of the expense of seeking a protective order; this isn’t quite the case, as my February comment above shows. But Lubet is correct that there is a problem in treating the victim the same as the originally misbehaving attorney.

Of course, the problem is less with the Seventh Circuit decision as much as with the very clear instruction of Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 30(d)(1) combined with the unwillingness of courts to enforce sanctions or provide adequate protective orders for over-aggressive discovery. If district courts were doing their jobs, that Seventh Circuit opinion wouldn’t look so frightening to practitioners, because attorneys would be behaving in the first place.

One Comment

  • One thing that really needs to be mentioned is that attendance at a deposition really is not voluntary. Thus, this abusiveness is far more sinister than it would appear at first glance. It’s one thing to insult me when I can get up and walk away, quite another when I am commanded to be there and remain there while some jerk is insulting me.

    Given the fact too that presence is commanded, the lawyer cannot complain at all when his or her abusive conduct is responded to in kind.