Depositions: Does a plaintiff get to read depositions?

Another search string that bewilders me.

Short answer to the question: Yes. Longer answer to the question: Yes but … huh?

Here’s what happens after a deposition, when a transcript has been provided by the court stenographer, i.e., when there’s a deposition one can read.

The lawyer who conducted the deposition — subpoenaed the deponent, scheduled it with the opposition lawyer (and often re-scheduled it because there are always difficulties in getting everyone into a conference room at the same time) and hired the court stenographer — receives several copies of the deposition transcript a week or so after the deposition.

Let’s say you’re the plaintiff and you were deposed by the defendant’s lawyer. Your lawyer will receive the original deposition transcript and probably a copy. She will let you know that it’s in and will arrange to get it to you (or get you to it), because you do get to read it. You get to do more than read it: you read it and on a form that came with the transcript but is not attached to it, a form usually called an errata sheet (errata = mistakes), you will make note of any mistakes the stenographer might have made, and will write out your corrections.

The errata sheet(s) are lined and divided into columns: page, line, error, correction and the reason for the correction. As an example, I am looking now at my own deposition transcript errata sheet and see this line:

PAGE   LINE   FROM                   TO                       REASON

20           16        convicted                evict

(Totally mystifying how a stenographer could transcript a civil case action — eviction — into a criminal case action — conviction. This stenographer was, oh, pretty stupid. I had pages and pages of corrections.)

You’re not allowed to change the language in an effort to correct any accidental verbal ums, ers, or essence of statements you’ve made, but will correct spelling errors (someone’s name spelled incorrectly), informational errors (the wrong address, say) and the like. (Having said that, I’ll tell you that in my last deposition transcript, the stenographer made so many grammatical errors, I did correct them. I mean, I don’t use a singular verb with a plural subject, so “was four,” became “were four.”)

You do not get to change your testimony in any way. You are not performing an edit. If, in answer to a question, you said “I don’t remember,” you don’t get suddenly to remember. Nor, if you answered a question and now, upon reading your answer, realize that it sounds as if you were lying — because you were lying — do you get to change the answer to, say, “I don’t remember.”

That’s what is so crucially important about deposition testimony: it is graven, if not in rock, onto printer paper and you don’t get to highlight and delete.

After you’ve filled in your errata sheets, you will sign them and a separate page at the end of the transcript — swearing to the truth — in front of a notary public. Who will probably be your lawyer or someone in your lawyer’s office. Your lawyer will make a copy of the sheets (she already has copies of the transcript), and when the time is appropriate, will send the original transcript with your sworn errata sheet back to the opposing attorney — the one who asked you the questions during your deposition.

All of that is true, as well, when your lawyer deposes the defendant(s). For these transcripts, though, although you won’t be doing an errata sheet, you should without question read them, and read them carefully. (You should have been at the defendant’s deposition anyway, as I’ve said so many times before. So many times…) Read through it once, and then again.

You took notes during the depositions — and, I trust, typed and printed them — and now take notes during your read of the deposition testimony. This time you’ll be able to pin down page numbers and even lines. The only corrections you’ll be making are to any mistakes you made in your original notes.

Amalgamate the two sets of notes. If you had a really good time listening to the defendant’s deposition, you’ll have a spectacularly good time reading what he said. You’ll be able to see with remarkable clarity contradictions, evasions, lies.


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