credibility

60 – Matthew Pearson – A New Era: A Look Inside the First Zoom Jury Trial

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael is joined by Matthew Pearson, the plaintiff’s lawyer in the highly publicized first Zoom jury trial in the country. They discuss the trial in detail including how Matthew’s case was selected, how a summary jury trial works, the jury selection process, case presentation, and what (if anything) Matthew would do differently.

The episode begins with a discussion of Matthew’s background and how he became involved in the nation’s first Zoom jury trial. He specializes in first party insurance cases in construction defect from the property owner’s side. Michael notes this is different from most of his other guests, but Matthew identifies some parallels in what he does with other plaintiff’s lawyers.

The case he tried by Zoom involves a commercial building hit by a hailstorm in Collin County, Texas where the insurance company did not want to pay out the claim. As part of Collin County’s ADR process, the parties must hold a summary jury trial before they are allowed a full jury trial. The goal is for a settlement in mediation after the summary jury trial. Matthew’s summary jury trial was originally set for July, but he was asked (or “volun-told”) to move it forward to May 18th and do it virtually. He was a little nervous, but excited overall for the opportunity.

Michael and Matthew then briefly discuss how a summary jury trial is nonbinding and has far less rules than a full jury trial. Each side has an hour and a half to put on their case, then the jury deliberates and comes back with a non-binding verdict. Both sides can then ask the jury questions about the verdict and their deliberation. Matthew finds this approach to be a great opportunity for feedback and to identify areas to improve should the case go to full trial.

Diving right into the jury selection process, Matthew describes how typically in a summary jury trial the mediator will select the jury and only dismiss jurors “on the fringe” of either side. When the court noticed the publicity surrounding this Zoom trial, they decided to give each side 15 minutes to do voir dire (on the Friday evening before the Monday trial no less). Michael asks Matthew how a Zoom jury would do things like raise their hands when asked a group question, a process Matthew describes as “The Brady Bunch on steroids.”

The conversation continues with a look at case presentation. Michael asks if Matthew presented his case differently than he would in an in-person trial. Matthew says he tried to go about it like a regular trial as much as possible. He typically uses PowerPoint for his opening, which worked perfectly for the virtual presentation. He utilized Trial Director software to talk the client though evidence and instructed his expert to use PowerPoint to present key documents as well. The expert also used a digital pen to circle key points and blew up pictures as he presented. Michael notes he typically tries to avoid using too much PowerPoint during trial but agrees it would be necessary when presenting virtually.

The importance of building strong group dynamics in a jury has been discussed in the podcast often. Is it possible to create group bonds when everybody is sitting in their own homes? Matthew notes it wasn’t vital for a one-day non-binding trial but agrees this would be difficult for a week-long trial. He describes how the jurors ate lunch by themselves and when the day is over, they just turn off their computers without interacting with the rest of the jury (it would be improper for them to communicate via phone once the day is over).

Whether a strong group or not, the jury did deliberate for 30 minutes and reached a unanimous verdict. Matthew was pleasantly surprised by the fact they found his expert to be credible, even over Zoom. Leading both to agree on the huge cost savings down the line if trial lawyers no longer needed to pay for experts to travel to a trial.

In Matthew’s case, the damages were all economic. Looking at it from a personal injury perspective, Michael worries about jurors’ ability to assess pain in a virtual trial. He gives an example of people who are more moved by a 30-minute TV show than they are by most trials and sees an opportunity for a new group of consultants to emerge from this. An interesting comparison to Saturday Night Live is mentioned that you have to tune in and hear in order to fully appreciate.

Now for the big question: Would Matthew do a Zoom trial if the result was binding? He’s not so sure if he would. While this experience went very smoothly, it was only a one-day experiment. All the jurors were able to find a quiet place without interruptions and they had no technical issues. If this was a full-blown trial it would go on for much longer. He’s also not confident the results could be replicated for such a large endeavor. And has doubts a jury could go through so much evidence and make a decision based off the evidence virtually. Michael and Matthew discuss possible solutions to this but agree this would be a huge concern.

They close off the episode with Michael asking, “Would you do anything differently?” Matthew replies he would present the same way, with an opening, putting on witnesses, and a modified closing. But he would change his use of technology. He urges listeners to have at least two screens set up and to leave the jury on one screen for the entirety of the trial to monitor their reactions. He would also have his paralegal join to help control documents, like he would in a regular trial. Lastly, they both agree while they are very hesitant to hold a binding trial via Zoom, they may be forced to if this goes into 2021.

This podcast also covers jury engagement, body language, whether Zoom trials can provide a representative jury pool due to the technology involved, the importance of trial consultants, how to share lengthy exhibits with jurors, Matthew’s appearance in Sari de la Motte’s Hostage to Hero Facebook group, and more.

If you’d like to reach Matthew to discuss his virtual trial experience or discuss a case with him, visit his law firm’s website at pearsonlegalpc.com or email him at mpearson@pearsonlegalpc.com.

 

Bio

Matthew Pearson is the founder of Pearson Legal PC based out of San Antonio, Texas.  He has over 25 years of experience litigating matters in federal and state courts throughout Texas and the United States.  He has extensive experience in cases involving insurance law, construction defects, business disputes and employment law, and has earned a reputation for successfully representing his clients in the courtroom.  Mr. Pearson was recognized by Verdict Search for receiving the largest insurance verdict in Texas two years in a row. Verdict Search also recognized Mr. Pearson for receiving the fifth largest contract dispute verdict in Texas and the second largest employment verdict in Texas.

Mr. Pearson is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law and Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  Mr. Pearson also writes articles and frequently speaks on insurance and construction law issues.

 

25 – Sonia Rodriguez – Defeating Defense Medical Experts

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Sonia Rodriguez, for another installment of TLN Table Talk to answer the questions of our listeners. This episode focuses on defense medical “experts,” or as Michael calls them, “paid opinion witnesses.”

Michael calls this spade a spade right from the get-go, in that the title of “defense medical experts” is a sham. Many times, he says, they are called “independent experts” when they are neither independent nor an expert, not to mention the fact that they are hand-picked by defense lawyers who pay them for their testimony. Michael believes it is a huge fraud being perpetrated on our clients, on the jury, and on the court system. He says, typically “we know what their report is going to say once we hear their name,” further exemplifying this flaw in the system.

So, Michael asks, “what do we do to expose this and show the jurors the truth?” Sonia believes it is critical we expose the relationships experts have with the lawyers who hired them, how often they’ve been used by that firm or the defense industry, as well as how much money they make from that business. She also uncovers what percentage of their business is spent on reviewing files for defense lawyers vs. practicing medicine, in some cases. All of which can go a long way in revealing these witnesses for what they really are, which is “paid opinion witnesses.” Michael also explains how he doesn’t like to even use the word “expert,” which gives them the mantle of that title. He goes on to discuss the harsh reality and his distain for medical professionals who misuse their degrees to go against the very oath they have taken to “do no harm,” while we represent legitimately injured clients, and they do it for money! They both agree how uncovering the financial ties and bias of these witnesses also says a lot about them because they could likely be making much more money by seeing patients, but instead are reviewing cases for a defense lawyer. Michael also talks through a real example of what he’s run into on how these medical witnesses come to find themselves making money in this way and how their path toward testifying can ironically parallel his client’s paths.

Michael and Sonia share a plethora of examples regarding their tactics on utilizing depositions, both past and present, to build their cases, ranging from networking with other attorneys and medical professionals to leveraging amazon.com in the middle of a deposition. Sonia explains how you cannot go into a deposition with a broad brush, but rather be laser-focused and able to drill down on even a single word, in some cases, to make your entire case. And to sum things up, Michael talks through the very polarizing two ends of the spectrum his preparations take him with defense medical experts, where they are likely to either be way “off the deep end” and obviously working as a paid witness, or he will focus his energies on essentially turning them to help his case. The strategies they both describe are pure methodical genius.

The conversation shifts to talk specifically about the tone and demeanor both Michael and Sonia use when deposing paid medical witnesses. They both agree the tone and demeaner you use in a paid medical witness deposition is extremely important, as it will likely be replayed for the jury at some point and jurors will also be watching to see how you handle yourself in this situation, the same way they do in the courtroom. We, as plaintiff attorneys, also need to be cognizant of how we are approaching the deposition so it leads the jury to come to their own conclusions regarding the credibility of the paid medical witness and their testimony. It also becomes reflective for the jury to feel the danger themselves of allowing these paid medical witnesses to get away with using their titles as a form of “expertness” in exchange for being paid by the defense. In other words, if we just “rip into them” it will likely backfire on us and not work at all in our favor. Not to mention, Sonia adds, that today’s juries are tired of the theatrics and enthusiastic approach of some lawyers, where the days of yelling and pounding your fist on the table are now long gone.

All in all, this Table Talk with Michael and Sonia was thorough and filled with an enormous number of real examples from their experiences over the years. As a trial lawyer, you will likely run into paid medical witnesses in trials often, and this table talk could be the one thing that prepares you most for success.

18 – Jude Basile – A Trial Lawyer’s Favorite 2 Words: All Rise

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with well-established and extremely accomplished trial lawyer, Jude Basile, from San Luis Obispo, CA. Growing up, Jude knew early on he had a tremendous desire to become a trial lawyer, a profession he describes as one where he can talk to ordinary people about what’s right and what’s wrong.

Jude’s passion for jury trials is palpable from the very beginning of his conversation with Michael where he describes the evolution of how our “enemies” approach us and the power of the jury. He talks about the numerous delay tactics to drag things out, throw broad nets in discovery, and other roadblocks to stop us from getting to trial. And he reveals the power a jury has to level the playing field, which is getting hard to hold on to. In fact, if there was one thing he could change, he says it would be some legislative enactment where we could limit those obstacles so we could have easier access to a jury, because it seems like the only cases which can go to jury now are very big and very expensive cases. This is likely why his two favorite words are “all rise.” He goes on to describe how the 7th amendment has seemingly evolved over the years into the right to present a case to an arbitrator, or to an adjuster, or a mediator. Of course, there are cases that reach a jury but there is a tremendous fight to get to a jury trial, in his experience. Michael notes this fight also tests your determination and desire to get there, because not everyone has it and there are different forces at work with each case.

Michael asks Jude his advice for aspiring trial lawyers on the things to be done to develop trial skills. Like many great attorneys will tell anyone looking to become a trial lawyer, continuous education is important (as he notes several of the great authors of the books in his office such as Moe Levine, Jim Perdue, Mark Mandell, and others), but there is no substitute for trial experience. Jude recommends starting by working with a local prosecutor or public defender’s office. He suggests if you can try a DUI case you can likely try any type of case: they have direct and circumstantial evidence, eye witness testimony, expert testimony, breathalyzers and other scientific equipment, chain of custody, blood samples, and you can learn all the evidentiary components in a case.

Trial lawyers are great story tellers to which Michael explores how to find the right story to tell. Described as the fundamental understanding in which all communication is a “story,” Jude explains the importance of understanding our own story first before trying to understand the other side’s story. He recalls a trial where understanding his own story helped him essentially win a case during jury selection after a potential juror questioned if Jude was “in it for the money.” His answer was not only truthful and heartfelt, but also brilliant, proving that sometimes the most difficult moments during a trial allow the most powerful things happen. Michael also points out when you deny truths, even when they are inconvenient, you lose credibility. Jude goes on to share another story about a case he is looking forward to trying in the coming months where the impact of money is of little importance versus the non-monetary considerations important to be met. Both Michael and Jude agree sometimes there are factors more important than money such as education, or the impact of change which can lead a case in the direction of betterment of everyone, which make them truly satisfying cases.

Michael and Jude conclude their conversation with a discussion on the fears (and successes) of turning down cases. This is a hard practice to implement, but the benefits can be surprisingly tremendous toward living the life you want to live… a habit few understand and even fewer are successfully able to implement.

For more information about Jude Basile, visit: http://www.basilelaw.com/

Jude Basile has been instrumental in developing and presenting compelling case stories to move juries to do right. His practice is based out of San Luis Obispo California. He concentrates on working with other lawyers, throughout the state, as lead trial counsel, to continue to share, develop and expand the method of simple, yet powerful truth telling.

He has received 6 Outstanding Trial Lawyer awards from Consumer Attorneys of San Diego, including Trial Lawyer of the Year. He has been named California Central Coast Trial Lawyer of the year 3 times. He is past president of the Trial Lawyers College having been personally selected by legendary trial lawyer Gerry Spence.

His verdicts include 7 and 8 Ligure results against corporations and governmental entities, on behalf of individuals and families. He is an invited member of the prestigious Inner Circle of Advocates limited to 100 of the best plaintiff trial lawyers in the nation. He belongs to the exclusive membership of the Black War Bonnet Society, which stands for high achievement and discipline in the pursuit of physical mental and spiritual wellness.

He is a frequent, invited presenter to Trial Lawyer and Bar Organizations throughout the country.

He has practiced trial law since 1982. A member of the United States Supreme Court, California, Georgia and Federal bars.

He lives on the doorstep to Big Sur California with his wife and 3 children and enjoys hiking, and contemplation in the Coastal Mountains.

For more information about Jude Basile, visit: http://www.basilelaw.com/

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