A major component to achieving success at trial is gaining credibility with the judge and jury. While there are many actions you can take at trial, you really gain your credibility before the lawsuit is even filed. Adhere to the following five points and your credibility with a judge or jury will likely soar.
- Follow your governing documents. Failing to follow your own policies and procedures is a sure fire way to lose credibility with anybody. Your policies establish the guidelines and expectations for the whole community. If you fail to follow them, you will appear unreliable and not credible.
- Document your actions. If an action is taken by the board or manager, document the action in writing. This can be in the meeting minutes, a letter sent to the homeowner, or in a note to the file outlining the facts and action taken or not taken. Certainly there will be testimony about this action at trial, but often testimony alone is not enough to build credibility. If the action is documented, you can use the documentation at trial to substantiate your story. Otherwise, you will be left with your word, which may not be enough in a he said, she said situation.
- Maintain the high road. When documenting your actions, remember your written document may be used at trial. Thus, do not resort to rude or abusive comments, despite any attempts to arouse this response. This does not mean that you must accept inappropriate behavior, but only that you refuse to engage in it. Simply note the rude behavior and move on with the reason for the association's position.
- Be consistent. Ensure that your governing documents are consistently followed. For example, if one homeowner is allowed a front porch swing, do not deny a subsequent homeowner's request for the same item. It will come across as selective enforcement of the rules, unless there is a truly valid reason for the denial.
- Be direct about any mistakes. Unfortunately, mistakes can happen. If you make a mistake in the course of dealing with a homeowner, admit it and move on. Attempting to explain the mistake away often leads to a story that is difficult to tell and unbelievable.
In sum, the actions you take now will determine your credibility at trial. While a good lawyer can massage certain issues -- the facts are what the facts are. This is in your control when governing your community. Following these five steps will not only help at trial, but more importantly, they will likely keep you from getting there - which is always the goal.