young man and young woman with camera

For years, parties have videotaped both the deponent as well as the lawyer asking the questions during a deposition.  The purpose is to provide a split screen video to the jury at trial which would simultaneously show the questioner and the deponent in real time.  But is it permissible?  As demonstrated below, the answer is “No”, unless the parties stipulate or the court orders it upon the showing of good cause.
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At the 22nd Annual West Coast Casualty Seminar, Plaintiff counsel Michael Kennedy, General Contractor Counsel Matthew Hawk, Subcontractor Counsel Brian Sanders, Claims Manager James Rzpecki and I presented a new protocol for how to litigate construction defect cases. This new protocol is in compliance with the Code of Civil Procedure as well as the current case law.  But, more importantly these new Case Management Orders address the concerns that the parties have with the current process and provides them with admissible evidence in order to adequately evaluate their case and  be prepared to have a meaningful mediation within six months of the litigation.
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John Podesta, an insurance coverage attorney in San Francisco, brings us his perspective on why the Form Interrogatories for Construction Defect should be used. John has handled hundreds of coverage cases  involving Construction litigation and other complex matters for over twenty years.  He is a nationally known speaker on Insurance Coverage issues in Construction and has written several articles on the subject.  He is also the author of the insurance Interrogatory 304.1 of Construction Litigation Form Interrogatories.

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It is generally recognized that construction defect cases are some of the most expensive, and complicated, cases being litigated in California.  I have personally been involved in cases with more than 75 payors contributing to a settlement, including contractors, insurers, and sureties.  I have witnessed them from the beginning of the modern Special Master programs in the 1980’s through the single assignment Special Masters (both mediator and case management/discovery referee) and the dual reference (where the case manager/discovery referee and the mediator are separated) and cases with no outside supervision and the case is handled per the CCP.  In all these cases, the same question is asked by the carriers:  “How can we get these cases evaluated and resolved quicker and less expensively?”  And the related question: “If this is a case that needs to be tried how can we get to that decision point as soon as possible?
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Somewhere in the back of your mind you are aware that discovery and Motions for Summary Judgment deadlines are looming. Yet, you really don’t pay attention to them until they are upon us usually around day 45 when you start trying to schedule experts. That is when you realize there are not enough hours in the day and days in the week. Unless you have a case that is a simple slip and fall or a fender bender, the last 100 days before trial can be daunting. Throw in a Motion for Summary Judgment or Summary Adjudication into the mix and you’re swamped. Then there is the ultimate question you ask yourself, “When am I going to find time to prepare for trial.”

The Code of Civil Procedure timeline regarding deadlines for expert disclosure, close of discovery and the last day discovery motions can be heard is demonstrated below.  Seeing it scheduled in black and white is kind of scary.
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Last November I received the following e-mail:

Since courts are so overwhelmed and setting dates for hearing is now running 6 months or longer, how does one do motions to compel further responses to interrogatories in a meaningful way? I booked the first available date with the court, but it is not until next June and I need the responses in order to know what documents to request. Any ideas?

It is unfortunate that the California budget crisis has so imploded civil litigation in our courts. Despite the fact that discovery is the heart and soul or your case and you are entitled to compliance with your discovery requests; law and motion departments typically give discovery motions the lowest priority on their calendar. So, what do you do?
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I was asked how do you handle discovery abuse when it is part of a deep pocket defendant’s litigation strategy. His story went like this:

Plaintiff’s counsel had been to court several times on motions to compel documents and motions to compel further documents from an international Corporation. The court’s most recent order was that the documents were to be served two weeks before the corporation’s person most knowledgeable depositions were to take place in London. Instead defendant produced 30,000 documents on a CD less than 24 hours before the London depositions were to begin. Plaintiff counsel went forward with the depositions as trial was in a month and his client could not afford for the lawyer to go to London another time. Plaintiff counsel expressed his frustrations that even though the court gave him $6000 in sanctions he was severely handicapped in his preparation for the depositions and it impacted on what evidence he could obtain before trial.

Even though this is an extreme example, it is not unusual. The real question is what could he have done and what should you do if you find yourself in this situation.
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When I hear of a Judge or Discovery Referee making a ruling which essentially tries to not make anybody angry and essentially splits the baby, I cringe. This goes against the philosophy of the Discovery Act and current case law. There are rules in discovery and attorneys are expected to play by those rules. When one side plays by the rules and asks the court to enforce those rules, it becomes disheartening to that party when the Judge or Discovery Referee splits the baby instead of making the tough call.
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The purpose of the “meet and confer” requirements set forth in C.C.P. §§ 2025.450(b)(2), 2025.480(b), 2030.300(b), 2031.310(b) 2032.250(a) 2033.290(b) was for the lawyers to revisit their position, in good faith discuss a resolution and avoid unnecessary discovery motions.
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