How to be a Great Witness

Resource Topic: 
Litigation
Collections
Foreclosure
Covenant/Rule Enforcement
Construction Defect
Complex Litigation
Discrimination
By: Jeffrey B. Smith

Whether you are a board member or an employee of a management company, you may be called to testify in court as a witness to events. Here are some practical hints and suggestions on what to do and how to do it well when you are asked to serve as a witness. Bear in mind that testifying is not a common occurrence and it is important to come very prepared and be ready for tough questions that opposing counsel may ask.

You should arrive at the courthouse 30 minutes early unless otherwise instructed by the attorney. Make sure you take into account the time of day you will be traveling and make sure to budget time for traffic conditions, parking, and getting through security. You should have the attorney’s cell phone number, and make sure the attorney has yours in case a problem arises. When you arrive at the Court make sure you check the video monitors to confirm what courtroom you are supposed to appear in.

Please remember that the courtroom is a professional arena.  As such, appropriate attire is business casual.  This does not mean that you need to be in a suit, but please do not wear miniskirts, shorts, sandals, jeans or tee shirts.  Dress pants with a button down shirt or similar would be perfect.    

Remember to bring all files and documents related to the case unless the attorney has instructed you otherwise. This will include, a current ledger showing all assessments, payments, fines, late fees, interest and attorney fees dating back to the last zero balance. Additionally please bring any correspondence with the Debtor, as well as all compliance and fine notices.
   
When you are in the courtroom, please take a seat in the audience directly behind the Plaintiff’s table which is normally on the right side of the courtroom. Always be polite, professional and courteous.  Try to be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible.  Always stand when the judge enters and leaves the courtroom. Most importantly turn all cell phones off (not set to vibrate) when you enter the courtroom. 
   
The order of witnesses is as follows. First the Plaintiff (the Association in collection cases) will call each of its witnesses. The Plaintiff’s attorney will then give direct examination to those witnesses. The Defendant’s attorney will then cross exam those witnesses. Cross examination can be a scary process, but always remember to tell the truth and answer the questions to the best of your ability only with what you know. Do not make assumptions or guesses while you are on the stand. After the cross examination Plaintiff’s attorney may or may not ask you follow up questions to rehabilitate any of your answers given on cross examination. After this process repeats for all of Plaintiff’s witness the process will reverse itself for the Defendant’s direct examination.

Remember trials do not always follow the script so be prepared to testify at any stage of the trial. Most importantly remember to be relaxed, you are not on trial, the Defendant is on trial.

For further information on testifying please see our previous article How To Prepare and Testify In Court.  If you would like to discuss this article in greater detail, feel free to call on of our attorneys at 303.432.9999.