Hot Coffee Strikes Again! Or, How not to handle yourself in a deposition

Man, depositions can be rough on some people. I personally know of situations in which various parties have thrown their laptops down in a temper tantrum, expert witnesses breaking down in tears or faking illness to take more time to prepare, or the time when an infamous developer parked his Ferrari right outside the room where his deposition was being held where he would try to claim he was broke, and have even seen video of a deposition in Texas where a fist fight broke out (Google it – you won’t be sorry…).

Comes now before the forum a case in which a lawyer representing a tech startup accompanied one of the firm’s advisory board members to his deposition. Court records indicate that two attorneys representing opposing parties in the matter have been notably combative throughout the case, at one point even requiring admonition by the judge.

In the deposition, things went from bad to worse, and according to witness statements and an affidavit from the court reporter, one of the attorneys became so angry at opposing counsel that she threw her coffee at him. Ars Technica’s Joe Mullin has more:

After they went back on the record, Wallerstein asked Pieraccini about what just happened. Pieraccini said Healy “somehow felt insulted” and “threw a cup of coffee” in Wallerstein’s direction. There was coffee on Wallerstein’s bag, person, and possibly on his computer, according to Pieraccini…

Everyone at the incident except for Healy, however—Pieraccini, the court reporter, and Wallerstein—ultimately said that Healy threw the coffee. “Healy’s actions were shocking and inappropriate, but her response in the wake of those actions is in many ways much worse,” wrote Magistrate Judge Ryu. “Healy repeatedly refused to take responsibility for her conduct, as she has done throughout this case.”

Healy’s attempts to blame Wallerstein’s provocations for her actions “glosses over how her own conduct contributed to the toxic exchanges that, regrettably, have become routine in this case,” wrote Ryu. And an “apology” that Healy issued later amounted to little more than her saying “I’m sorry that Mr. Wallerstein is so awful,” in Ryu’s view.

Judge Ryu sanctioned the attorney and issued a $250 fine. The judge’s order is worth a read (PDF) and will hopefully make the rounds at law schools and bar association newsletters in the coming months.

Clarification: Upon further review, it appears that the coffee used as a weapon of assault in this case was in fact iced coffee, and was therefore unlikely “hot coffee” as represented in the headline, which is an obvious play on the notorious case that prompted tort reform discussion across the country. Perhaps a slight infraction against poetic license…

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