Sunday, March 20, 2011

Copy-Machine Question Spawns Deposition for the History Books

copymachineIf anyone out there is thinking of going to law school because he or she hopes to be trying cases in the style of Jack McCoy three years down the line, let us show you an example of what real-life litigation is all-too-frequently like.

It comes from the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, and concerns an exchange between a lawyer in a public-records case in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.

And if you're anything like us, it'll make you want to bang your forehead against your keyboard. Hard.

The case is about "whether deeds and other records at the county recorder's office — records that were collected and are maintained with your taxes — should be readily available at reasonable cost."

Straightforward enough, we suppose. But that's certainly not how we'd describe a colloquy between a plaintiffs' lawyer and a deponent, the acting head of information technology for a Cuyahoga County office.

At issue: whether the office had a copy machine at the time in question.

Plaintiffs' lawyer: During your tenure in the computer department at the Recorder's office, has the Recorder's office had photocopying machines?

Deponent's Lawyer: Objection.

PL: Any photocopying machine?

Deponent: When you say "photocopying machine," what do you mean?

PL: Let me be — let me make sure I understand your question. You don't have an understanding of what a photocopying machine is?

D: No. I want to make sure that I answer your question correctly.

. . .

D: When you say "photocopying machine," what do you mean?

PL: Let me be clear. The term "photocopying machine" is so ambiguous that you can't picture in your mind what a photocopying machine is in an office setting?

D: I just want to make sure I answer your question correctly.

PL: Well, we'll find out. If you can say yes or no, I can do follow-ups, but it seems — if you really don't know in an office setting what a photocopying machine is, I'd like the Ohio Supreme Court to hear you say so.

D: I just want to make sure I answer your question correctly.

DL: There's different types of photocopiers, Dave.

Are you yet reaching for your blood-pressure medication? Well, there's more.

DL: I understand that, but I understand what his objection is. You want him to answer the question, but I don't think it's fair.

PL: It's not fair?

DL: It's not a fair question. A photocopy machine can be a machine that uses photostatic technology, that uses xerographic technology, that uses scanning technology.

PL: I don't care what kind of technology it uses. Has your offices — we don't have technocrats on the Ohio Supreme Court.  . . .

Do you have photocopying machines at the Recorder's office? If you don't know what that means in an office setting, please tell the court you don't know what it means in an office setting to have a photocopying machine.

D: I would like to answer your question to the best of my ability.

PL: I'm asking you to answer that.

D: So if you could explain to me what you mean by –

PL: I'm not going to do that because I want you — I want to establish on the record that you really don't know what it is. I want to establish that.

Now, do you know what it is or do you not know what it is? Do you understand what that term means in common parlance or not?

D: Common parlance?

PL: Common language.

D: I'm sorry. I didn't know what that meant. I understand that there are photocopying machines, and there are different types of them just like –

PL: Are there any in the Recorder's office?

D: — there are different cars. Some of them run under gas power, some of them under electric power, and I'm asking if you could help me out by explaining what you mean by "photocopying machines" –

PL: That's a great point.

D: — instead of trying to make me feel stupid.

PL: If you feel stupid, it's not because I'm making you feel that way.

DL: Objection.

Feel like you're in an Abbott & Costello routine? A Mamet play? As the old Ginsu knives guy used to say, but wait, there's more.

DL: Dave, the word "photocopying" is at issue in this case, and you're asking him whether something is or isn't a photocopy machine, which is a legal conclusion –

PL: This isn't a patent case. There's no statute that defines — where I'm asking him to define technology for me. I'm asking — I want to find out from a layperson's perspective, not an engineer's perspective, not a technician's perspective, but from — I have an idea.

DL: How about this: Have you ever heard the term "photocopier" or "photocopy" used in the Recorder's office by anybody?

D: Photocopy? I'm sure in the time I've been there someone has used the term.

PL: And have you ever heard them use it in referencing a particular device or machine within the Recorder's office? By way of example, "can you photocopy that for me?" That's an example of office parlance.

D: That particular terminology I've not witnessed.

PL: What was the context that you've heard the term "photocopy" used in the Recorder's office?

D: I'm sure it's been used. I didn't say I remembered a specific instance.

PL: All right. But you have a general understanding that people have used the term "photocopy" within the Recorder's office in terms of something that could be done there; is that true?

D: I'm sure it's been used. I don't remember a specific instance or how it was used. I'm sure it's been used.

PL: And is it fair to say that it's been used in terms of being able to copy one piece of paper onto another piece of paper using a machine? No? Not sure of that?

D: I'm sure it's been used. I don't recall a specific instance in which it was.

And yes, it goes on from here. According to the Plain-Dealer story, the "what is a copy machine" exchange goes on for 10 pages of the transcript.

Sent from James' iPhone

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