witness

74 – Ed Ciarimboli – Masked Justice: Part 3

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with fellow trial lawyer Ed Ciarimboli from Pennsylvania. Ed is part of the elite class of lawyers who have been able to take a case to trial in the COVID era. And with the final witness testimony being so monumental to the case that they settled immediately after he left the witness box, this trial story is one you need to hear to believe!

They begin with a brief discussion of Ed’s background and how he started trying cases. A partner at a 12-lawyer and 3 location firm, Fellerman & Ciarimboli, Ed mainly focuses on commercial motor vehicle cases. He got into the AAJ speaking circuit about 9 years ago, where he began to really hone his skills as a lawyer. It was a couple of years after that when he was told he needed to become great at trying cases. When Ed asked why, the other lawyer responded, “Because you’re the worst lawyer I’ve ever seen at settling a case.” So, Ed took the advice and has since focused his energy on being as comfortable as possible in the courtroom.

When asked to elaborate on what he did to develop his skills as a trial lawyer, Ed insists the biggest factor was his investment in his education. He urges young lawyers to do more than join a webinar- they should go to conferences and workshops to truly focus on the different aspects of trial and HOW they’re doing it. Body language and movement are crucial to a lawyer’s performance in the courtroom, and after working with a long list of consultants and gurus on these topics, Ed encourages everyone who wants to be a great trial lawyer to put the effort into this.

He then clarifies that this doesn’t mean following the dogmatic approach of one pro- it’s about learning the fundamentals (taking depositions, cross-examinations, etc.) then studying different approaches to storytelling and choosing the best one for your particular case.  This approach requires much more work than a cookie-cutter strategy, but both Ed and Michael agree that it’s well worth the effort.

Michael then starts to dig into the facts of Ed’s case, which was unique and incredibly tragic. Ed explains how the defendant company purchased a huge molding machine from a broker. The defendant company signed the paperwork and assumed responsibility for the machine, then hired a crane company for the rigging and transportation of said machine. The crane company was told nothing about the details of the machine, notably the 55-gallon drum of hydraulic fluid still inside the machine. In the process of moving the machine onto the flatbed truck for transportation, the hydraulic fluid sloshed to the side and caused the machine to tip over onto Ed’s client, killing him instantly.

Ed then explains how they ended up suing the company who purchased the machine and shares how his extensive work on commercial motor vehicle cases set him up for success on this case. Ed knew the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations “100 million times better than the defense,” which he used to his advantage in placing the blame on the defendant company whose only real defense was, “We hired this company.”

Michael continues the conversation by asking Ed how jury selection was handled. Ed shares how voir dire was conducted in a large old theater instead of a courtroom in order to allow for safe spacing between the potential jurors. And while he admits he was more nervous for this jury selection than any he’s ever done before, the process went incredibly smoothly. He gives high praise to the judge, his jury consultants, and the jurors themselves, stating, “I truly believe we won this case in jury selection.” He also notes that the demographic composition of the jury pool was not skewed, something which will surprise listeners who believed COVID would cause people to resist sitting on a jury.

Ed then shares the setup of the courtroom, which included the jurors sitting in the gallery with two large screens in front of them. He explains in-depth the lengths he and his team went to effectively present to a jury largely spaced out, including the widespread use of visuals that any trial lawyer trying to get back in the courtroom needs to hear.

Michael then digs deeper into Ed’s sequencing of the case and presentation to the jury, which is something he did with incredible craft and thoughtfulness. He began by simply stating, “George James went to work one day and never came back. Why?” before introducing the jury to the company, who was very experienced in dealing with hazardous materials. He then boiled this complex case down into one simple graphic of the transportation cycle, highlighting the defendant company was both the shipper and the receiver of the machine.

Ed then called the corporate representative as his first witness, who did “TERRIBLE,” and came off smug, angry, and unwilling to accept the responsibility which was so clearly his. Next was their expert, then the moment which Ed was most concerned about, the client’s blue-collar co-workers from the crane company. His fears were quickly abandoned as these witnesses talked plainly and honestly about their lack of experience with hazardous materials, further securing the blame on the defendant company who assumed the responsibility. But the most powerful moment of all was seeing the way they all talked about Ed’s client and how amazing of a person he was, causing many of them to break down on the stand.

As the trial went on, the defense kept offering more money to settle the case, but it was nowhere near enough. Ed had rested and was ready for closing until the defense called their final witness, an economic expert. While Ed had chosen to leave economic damages out of the case completely, the defense thought it wise to have their witness testify that based on the client’s income and life expectancy, his life was only worth $61,000.

Considering the client was such an upstanding person that his EX-WIFE was one of the key damage witnesses, this was a shocking move. After Ed’s brutal cross-examination of this witness (which you need to hear to fully appreciate), he was rushed in the hallway by corporate counsel eager to settle for the amount he wanted. Ed agreed and the case was settled right before closing.

While Ed’s trial story and success in the age of COVID are admirable, Michael wants to know – would Ed recommend other lawyers to push their cases to trial, or should they wait until COVID has passed? Ed simply states, “I say do it.” It’s scary filled with uncertainty, but as lawyers, we are not doing our jobs if we are not pushing our cases.

As a follow-up, Michael curiously asks, “What about if your only option is a Zoom trial?” to which Ed is a bit more hesitant. They go back and forth discussing the merits and limitations of Zoom trials, which Michael is set to partake in starting February 1st. Ed praises Michael for taking this leap and wishes him luck in this upcoming trial.

This podcast episode also covers why sequencing your witnesses properly is so important, using experts, how Ed found his “best jurors,” the details of the FMCSR’s on transporting hazardous material, what the jurors said when Ed reached out to them post-trial, and so much more. This is truly an inspiring trial story that you DON’T want to miss!

 

Interested in hearing more COVID era trial stories? Check out our other Masked Justice episodes:

 

Guest Bio:

Attorney Edward Ciarimboli is a founding partner at Fellerman & Ciarimboli Law PC. He graduated from Wilkes University with a dual degree in political science and engineering and applied science. While at Duquesne University School of Law, he was admitted to the Order of Barristers for Excellence in Courtroom Advocacy and was named a national semi-finalist in the American Trial Lawyers Association Moot Court Competition.

After receiving his Juris Doctor, Attorney Ciarimboli served as a law clerk to the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Attorney Ciarimboli concentrates his practice on trucking and auto collision and medical malpractice litigation. He is active in many professional organizations, including the American Association for Justice, the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, and the Luzerne County and Pennsylvania Bar Associations. He serves on AAJ’s National College of Advocacy Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors for the Pennsylvania Association of Justice, donates to AAJ’s PAC, and is a member of AAJ’s Trucking Litigation Group; Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway and Premises Liability; Insurance Law; and Professional Negligence sections.

Attorney Ciarimboli has been selected for inclusion in the Pennsylvania Super Lawyers® list every year since 2008. He was named Top 40 Under 40 by the National Trial Lawyers Association and named to the Top 10 National Trial Lawyers’ Trucking Trial Lawyers Association. He was also named as one of the Nation’s Top One Percent by the National Association Distinguished Counsel.

In addition to his extensive trial practice, Attorney Ciarimboli frequently teaches lawyers across the country on both deposition and trial skills.

Attorney Ciarimboli is also an active member of his community. With his partner, Attorney Greg Fellerman, he began the Safe Prom Pledge in 2010 as a way to promote a drug-free and alcohol-free prom night for students throughout Eastern Pennsylvania. To date, they have spoken to more than 25,000 high school students on the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Attorney Ciarimboli lives in a 115-year-old farmhouse with his wife, Jennifer, their children, two dogs, two cats, countless chickens, roosters, and an occasional pheasant.

 

52 – Karonnie Truzy – Iron Sharpens Iron: How Practicing in a Tough Jurisdiction Makes You A Better Lawyer

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with attorney Karonnie Truzy from North Carolina. This show covers everything from contributory negligence, to gross negligence, making your case about the company, 1983 civil rights cases, and the simple things attorneys can do to help with diversity and inclusion in our industry.

The conversation starts with a discussion on how to maintain a work-life balance, as it is certainly a big issue for the legal industry. Simply put Karonnie believes, “people make time for things that are important to them.” He shares how hard his paralegals work to make sure travel takes place in the middle of the week so on weekends he can be with his family. His law firm is also supportive and will proactively tell him to take some personal time when he’s spent long hours at the office (a rarity you hear about at big firms). And he shares a great example of their care for him when he injured his Achilles last year.

Contributory negligence is the next topic discussed and an important one. North Carolina is 1 of 4 states with contributory negligence, essentially stating if you are found to be ANY percent at fault and responsible in ANY way for your injury you cannot recover damages. It is a complete bar, which is different from other states with a comparative negligence between the plaintiff and defendant. “Wow. So how do you deal with that?” Michael asks (clearly the same thought on everyone’s mind). It starts by accepting cases on a case by case basis. But it’s also incredibly important to do a lot of investigation work at the very beginning from talking with witnesses and law enforcement, to gathering video evidence. And while contributory negligence is difficult Karonnie also discusses “last clear chance” and “gross negligence” as ways to get around it.

Michael and Karonnie then discuss what can be done to make a case about a company and not just the driver in order to make it a bigger case. To begin Karonnie shares why it is important to have everything you need in discovery from employee handbooks to training materials. JJ Keller is often referenced, so Michael adds why these materials can be useful to plaintiff attorneys by giving an example of how his law partner Malorie Peacock is using the JJ Keller training to learn what the rules are and what people should be trained on for a unique explosion case. Karonnie then explains how he organizes his depositions and uses 30(b)(6) to know he is deposing the right people in the case (30(b)(6) is discussed in detail in episode 30 with Mark Kosieradzki).

Karonnie also handles 1983 civil rights cases, which leads to a discussion of qualified immunity with police officers. You’re usually not the attorney riding in on a white horse and most jurors already believe your client did something wrong. So how do you handle juror perception? In most cases like this the police department will hold a press conference and news stories will be shared, so Karonnie will use this footage to ask whomever made those statements “was this truthful, was this actually what happened?” He does this in front of the jury, so they can see how these statements before a proper investigation can skew their perception because the information was inaccurate. The same inaccurate information also aids in mean comments on media articles, which Karonnie purposely does not read. However, the conversation comes full circle when Michael shares he reads those mean comments to learn about hurdles he has on a case and Karonnie states he does this with focus groups whether it’s a civil rights case or a trucking case.

Explaining the dynamic of a family after they lose a loved one is critical in our industry. But sometimes we as attorneys have to explain to a jury why the value of life is the same no matter who it is. If our client was not the perfect person and lost their life, “we take away the opportunity for redemption” Michael poetically states. Karonnie responds with a heartfelt example of a case where in deposition the daughter of a deceased client describes why she is upset about the loss of her father when her relationship with him was not great. It’s a story that will undoubtedly resonate with everyone and may bring some to tears as they realize just how precious every day is in life.

The topic of “diversity and inclusion” is often discussed in the legal industry. Karonnie recently finished his 3 year role as Chief Diversity Officer for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and shares how this role was created to work to on this issue. But change doesn’t just happen, it has to be real and not “just words on a paper” he explains. Michael shares his simple, yet effective, way of simply inviting new people to join a group. This leads Karonnie to describe the impact cliques can have within an organization, or when attending a CLE, and why it’s important for attorneys to realize when this happens you leave people out and it can create a problem. It’s a truly honest and open conversation on what can sometimes be an uncomfortable topic to discuss.

This podcast also covers sudden emergency defense, how the AAJ Trucking Litigation Group helps with industry standards, using the commercial driver’s license manual to show what is reasonable in adverse weather conditions, and so much more.

 

ABOUT THE GUEST

Karonnie Truzy is a North Carolina attorney where he practices as a Partner with the law firm of Crumley Roberts, LLP. Karonnie has been licensed to practice in the state of North Carolina since 2001 in both state and federal courts and he concentrates his practice on handling
complex injury cases, commercial motor vehicle cases, and wrongful death claims throughout the state of North Carolina in Federal and State Court. Karonnie earned an undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg (Upstate) where he played basketball and further earned his Juris Doctorate from the Wake Forest University School of Law. He is dedicated to providing quality legal representation to each of his clients has helped his clients obtain successful results throughout North Carolina.

 

Karonnie is an accomplished attorney and has received a 10/10 Superb AVVO rating. He is listed in the Best Lawyers publication and serves on various boards on legal associations in North Carolina. Karonnie has most recently served as the Chief Diversity officer for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, the state’s largest Plaintiff’s bar. Karonnie has a passion for the practice of law but more importantly providing legal guidance to clients in need of assistance.

 

Karonnie is actively involved in his community and church. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, working within his church, basketball and more basketball! Karonnie is married and has one daughter and twin boys.

 

Education

• Wake Forest University School of law, Juris Doctorate, 2001

Order of the Barristers for Excellence in Trial Advocacy

• University of South Carolina Spartanburg, B.S., 1998

Professional Affiliations
North Carolina Bar Association
United States District Court for the Eastern, Western, and Middle Districts of North Carolina
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
American Association for Justice
Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys
North Carolina Advocates for Justice

21 – Sonia Rodriguez – Winning (or Losing) a Case in Deposition

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With overwhelmingly positive feedback from our listeners, TLN Table Talk podcast is back again! This time featuring fellow partner at Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock, Sonia Rodriguez, for a discussion mainly focused on how to win (or lose) a case in a deposition.

Michael is quick to note that many cases tend to settle before going to trial, making depositions an integral part of the process. Oftentimes it comes down to knowing the documents better than the defense attorneys while also knowing the right documents to order, which in many cases the defense may not have. It can also come down to a witness’s ability to know and articulate the truth in a deposition, which is frequently a direct reflection on those who have helped to prepare the witness (defense or plaintiff).

So how do Michael and Sonia prepare for depositions? Sonia explains her strategy of always looking back on the jury charge to see what exactly she is trying to gain from a witness, scour the defense record from production to find nuggets of useful information, dig into the footnotes, fine print, and back of pages to find what others might miss. She has also found social media to be useful to learn as much as you can on the person being deposed including who their friends and other contacts are, companies they’ve worked for, and digging in to find info on company manuals or other ways to authenticate them as an authority coming from a witness. Michael, on the other hand, points out the importance of networking and collaborating with other plaintiff’s lawyers as “we’re good at getting things and sharing information” such as prior admissions, reports, or testimony. There’s likely nothing more embarrassing for a witness, especially paid ones than to be cross-examined with contradictory testimony they gave in the past. Sonia, who recently had a deposition with a defense doctor, shares how his past testimony was the exact opposite of what he was testifying to in her case, which obviously played to her favor.

When it comes to the right length of a deposition, Sonia shares her wish to someday be able to take a short depo, but currently has her attention to detail and thoroughness to “blame” for the style of her depositions, one which sometimes drives opposing counsel mad. She tends to feel unsatisfied leaving a depo if she hasn’t covered a lot of ground, knowing the jury will likely not hear most of it. She has also found that many times when she’s taking a deposition, she’s not just doing a trial depo of a witness, but also trying to prepare in advance for a summary judgment response and how they can also be helpful to lay the groundwork for what she might need from another witness. In contrast, Michael prides himself on short but thorough depositions stating how it really depends on the witness and subject matter. He also admits the danger of taking shorter depositions in relation to “having a beginner’s mind” vs. the “curse of knowledge” where you might already know something, the defense already knows it, and the defense witness knows it, but the jury does not, and could lead to talking over the jury with jargon they might not understand. Both agree 100% no matter how you approach a deposition, you need to be actively engaged in listening to the responses and not just running down questions on an outline where you would likely miss the truly important parts of what the witness is saying, or not saying, which could make your case.

The conversation shifts to a lively debate heard in many firms of weighing the idea of “going for the kill” in the deposition vs. saving things for trial when you know the witness will be there in person. With different experiences from both Sonia and Michael prior to them partnering, each brings a unique perspective to the table from their mentors as well as from their personal experiences. Of course, they agree these tactics both have their place, but Michael also brings up the point how oftentimes with expert witnesses, if they don’t know something at a deposition, they tend to come to trial more prepared with a response.

Michael and Sonia jam pack the second half of their discussion with everything from preparing their own clients for deposition, videotaping depositions, deposing the other side’s experts, guiding medical experts to slow down their testimony while not losing the jury with industry terminology, and exceptions to all of the above.

Trial Lawyer Nation plans to do more “Table Talks” in the future, as this podcast has always been about inclusive learning for all in our industry, which includes learning from each other! Please keep submitting your questions, comments, and topic suggestions to podcast@triallawyernation.com; and be sure to like, share, and subscribe to get the latest from the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast!

Find out more about Michael Cowen here.

Find out more about Sonia Rodriguez here.

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