My current favorite interrogatory

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Richard Hershberger

Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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  1. Avatar notme
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    says:

    This interrogatory is overly broad, unduly burdensome, and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to notme
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      says:

      Not to mention compound (it seeks multiple categories of information).

      I disagree that it is not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

      But it’s too bad there’s no valid legal objection for “clumsy use of the English language, in a manner unbecoming a member of the bar.”Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Burt Likko
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        says:

        I actually did once object to an interrogatory on the grounds that it was indecipherable gibberish, but it genuinely was indecipherable. Unfortunately, I didn’t save a copy for later delectation. I think it was probably a scrambled version of two separate interrogatories. Someone somehow botched the formatting, never proofed it, and quite possibly ended up putting it in the boilerplate model.

        But for your standard run of the mill awful writing, where I know what they meant to ask and would have asked had they been fully literate, I just answer the question they meant to ask, perhaps restating it in the answer. I fantasize about objecting to routine bad English, but that would serve no purpose and might piss off a judge in a way that would hurt the case.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Burt Likko
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        says:

        @burt-likko

        I know nothing about the practice of law, but it looks to me as though every seemingly extraneous phrase in that sentence is intended to close off some kind of loophole. Is that not actually necessary?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Burt Likko
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        says:

        @burt-likko

        At my old firm, we used to object to Interrogatories because they were vague and ambiguous.Report

  2. Avatar Will H.
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    says:

    Good writing, I’d say. A bright career ahead writing fine print for credit card companies.
    But . . .

    It doesn’t specify which statements are in the possession of whom, but only the persons and documents which are in possession together with a list of names of persons; which is probably how I would respond to it.
    With many, many errata. Not to clarify things, but just to change things from time to time. Since they asked for everything but an extra scoop of ice cream, I don’t think I would be inclined to give it to them.
    Part of it is properly a subpoena duces tecum, and I believe there is a colorable objection on those grounds. The use of interrogatories to produce documents seems to side-step some procedural issues.

    Let me guess:
    Some attorney said: “This looks like the sort of thing a paralegal should take care of.”
    Under the direct supervision of an attorney, of course. (as if that ever really happens . . . )Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Will H.
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      says:

      More likely this is the boilerplate model they have in the computer. Though I have had other cases with the same firm, and I don’t recall this excrescence. Perhaps I expunged it from my memory.

      Oh, and I, a mere paralegal, do in fact draft interrogatories from time to time. Not on the routine stuff. We have our own boilerplate for that. But on non-routine stuff I usually take the first whack at it, my boss takes the second, and we discuss any lingering issues before I make the final version.Report

  3. Avatar Richard Hershberger
    Ignored
    says:

    From the same set:

    State whether you have or know of any photographs, plats, or diagrams made of the scene of the occurrence, vehicles, objects, or persons involved and, if so, state the date(s) on which taken or made, the name and address of the photographer and person who made the plats, or diagrams, identifying the subject, object, or person shown and who has possession of same.

    Notice that it asks about plats of people.Report

    • Avatar Roger Fergsuon in reply to Richard Hershberger
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      says:

      “Fairness, common sense, and judicial economy dictate that Plaintiff should not be permitted to re-litigate, again, the same issues that have already been decided, adversely to it, on the merits, in another proceeding.”

      I can’t decide whether the statement is horrid or brilliant.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Roger Fergsuon
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        says:

        “[R]e-litigate, again” is redundant. Otherwise, it’s a fine statement.

        Well, Maybe not. It’s prolix. We’re in the realm of law, so some jargon is appropriate. Wouldn’t, “The issue is res judicata” get you to the same place?Report

        • Avatar Will H. in reply to Burt Likko
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          says:

          Not to be pedantic (I am the student here, after all), but:

          1) I was under the impression that res judicata was an affirmative defense with elements subject to proofs; and

          2) I believe @roger-fergsuon is referring to issue preclusion here.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Will H.
            Ignored
            says:

            My recollection is that the affirmative defense you’re referring to is “collateral estoppel.” Collateral estoppel may be mutual or non-mutual, offensive or defensive. The issue that is estopped from re-litigation is res judicata (a matter which was necessarily and actually litigated to a final determination).

            So I might use a criminal conviction against a defendant as evidence of her civil liability to my client for the crime that she has been convicted of committing. Offensive, non-mutual, collateral estoppel: I don’t need to prove she did it, because the state already did that, and she resisted to the best of her ability and still lost.

            Maybe I’m on the wrong side of the distinction, I suppose: this is pretty subtle stuff.

            Again to my knowledge, these are all facets of the broader subject of “issue preclusion.” Doesn’t come up much in practice; were it to become relevant in a case, I’d dust off the ol’ Civ Pro hornbook and refresh myself on the taxonomy.Report

            • Avatar Will H. in reply to Burt Likko
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              says:

              @burt-likko :
              Thank you for the explanation.

              On further reflection though, I would have to say it is irrelevant, due to the procedural aspects of enforcement of subpoena; i.e., the objection to res judicata would have to come in the form of a motion to compel, and the burden would be on the movant to make a prima facie showing that defense was somehow non-applicable or inappropriate.
              Viewed from this light, it seems like an interrogatory might, on occasion, be a wise strategic move to have the issue of res judicata heard separately.

              Or am I moving in the wrong direction (no pun intended)?Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Will H.
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                says:

                Hard to say.

                I’ve confronted issue preclusion matters only rarely in the past, and always resolved them by way of stipulation (sometimes with a bit of an assist from the bench).Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Burt Likko
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                says:

                . . . and always resolved them by way of stipulation (sometimes with a bit of an assist from the bench).

                No one wants to be in court on the day the judge’s hemorrhoids are acting up.
                Of course, a precautionary inquiry of, “How’s the ‘roids today, Your Honor?” runs the risk of being viewed as contempt.
                I haven’t seen it in any of the practice guides.

                I was thinking along the lines of using burden-shifting to gain an advantage under the law of the case doctrine.
                But then, I think that is the difference between studying medical books with flip-sheet transparencies showing all the capillaries, and having to do something quick to stop the blood flow once you cut in there; i.e., Law as She Is in Actual Practice: More blood n’ guts, less flip-chart.Report

    • Perhaps it meant to ask about platypuses.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    I get into an argument with other lawyers about writing all the time. My preference is for simple, plain English that is easy to understand for all legal and non-legal writing. Shorter is also better than longer because I assume whatever I write is going to be read by a busy person with a short attention span. You make your point and you make it fast. Other lawyer friends really stick to the needlessly flowery language they learned in law school or their early careers. Its blather.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      I don’t particularly object to legalese in actual legal writing, but as seen in these examples if you aren’t proficient in the dialect you can easily descend into gibberish without realizing it.

      What gets me is people who write this way for non-lawyers in contexts where it is in their interests that the text actually be understood. I often request medical records, usually with an authorization from the patient. When I came here the boilerplate request letter was a page and a half, written in needlessly flowery language and with a string of contingencies for special cases. I knocked it down to one paragraph. I had to argue for eliminating the string of contingencies. What if one of them applied, and it wasn’t covered in that one paragraph letter? My argument is that the records clerk will never get that far, correctly parsing the flow chart implied in the letter. And furthermore in 99.9% of cases that special circumstance doesn’t apply, and including a block of text on it will just confuse any clerk that gets that far, possibly resulting in the quite reasonable response of simply chucking the whole thing.Report

  5. Avatar Mike Schilling
    Ignored
    says:

    This actually doesn’t bother me, since

    * It can be parsed unambiguously
    * It’s not ungrammatical
    * It’s entirely clear what it’s asking for

    Perhaps that comes from early training in interpreting things like:

    For each epsilon greater than there zero there exists a delta greater than zero such that when the absolute difference of x and a is less than delta, then the absolute difference of f(x) and f(a) is less than epsilon.

    Report

  6. Avatar Saul Degraw
    Ignored
    says:

    Let’s see. You can object on the grounds that this is vague and ambiguous, overly broad, compound, violates attorney-client privilege, asks for attorney-client work product.

    @richard-hershberger

    Does your firm mainly do car crashes or do you handle more complex personal injury matters as well? In California, the courts developed Judicial Council Form Interrogatories. These are supposed to be used in routine cases in order to avoid drowning everyone in discovery. You can use them in all litigation of course.

    Does Maryland have form interrogatories?Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Saul Degraw
      Ignored
      says:

      Car crashes are probably about half our practice. We also do a lot of workers comp. My guy also some years ago fell into an oddball specialty of representing cops or firefighters making disability claims against the agency employing them. This is mostly in one particular county that routinely screws its people over, given a chance. We mostly get those cases via referral from the union. There there is “everything else,” which is perhaps five to ten percent of the practice.

      Yes, Maryland has form interrogatories, though they are far from universally used. I also think that they aren’t all that great, either. Here is an example, for a motor tort case:

      “If you were in a vehicle involved in the occurrence, state whether the driver of the vehicle has a current driver’s license. if so, state when and where the license was issued, the nature of any restrictions on the license, and whether the license was ever suspended or revoked.”

      If I was in a vehicle? Didn’t you read the damned complaint? If you aren’t literate enough to do that, why should I think you will be able to read this answer?

      It’s my responsibility to research the drivers license history of the driver? Fuck off. I wouldn’t answer that if the driver were my wife. I’m certainly not going to answer it if I have to chase down whoever the driver was. If you care, take a deposition.

      If I was the driver, I would answer the question. If I was not, I would give them vague platitudes.Report

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