June 01, 2019 Feature

Old Dogs and New Tricks for Direct Examination

Dennis P. Rawlinson (originally published Spring 2005)

View downloadable PDF of article.

An eerie silence fell over the courtroom. The air seemed suddenly heavy. Time stopped. For the first time, all 12 jurors were on the edge of their seats. They were fully alert. They seemed to be straining their senses, like bird dogs after prey, to absorb the testimony that was about to come.

It had been quiet in the courtroom before, but nothing like this. It was as if everyone was afraid to breathe lest the movement distract attention from the questions about to be asked and the answers about to be given. Some were reminded of old Western movies where two cowboys riding through hostile Indian territory would rein in their horses to a stop and one would whisper to the other, “Slim, it’s quiet . . . too quiet.”

The memorandum in the hands of the witness was important. First, it was addressed not to just anyone but to the president of the tobacco company. But more importantly, the original had never been produced. In the hundreds of thousands of documents the company had turned over, it was nowhere to be found. And yet, like a miracle, here was the file copy—carried to court by its author, clearly revealing to all why the original had been destroyed.

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