Tips for attorneys: direct exam of a daughter

  Photo:  Jataun, my god daughter.

Photo:  Jataun, my god daughter.

This is a trial diary excerpt from 2011:

Four more witnesses testify – but only want to talk about one of them.  The 38 year old daughter.

How do you turn a witness into someone a jury will connect with.  Well, for starters you stop believing  you have magical persuasive powers.  Presenting a family member means getting out of the way so they can show their love.  It means creating a safe place.  It means embracing the human condition.  Not in a data collecting, data spouting lawyerly way.

Experiencing Michelle’s testimony is like being tossed about in an emotional cyclone.  She starts off friendly and awkward.  But in a few minutes we are swept along.  It is charming, gut wrenching, sweet, horrible.

Michelle has a scrunched up pile of Kleenex that she smooshes into her eyes.  She doesn’t dab at them.  She smooshes hard.  Keeps her hand pressed there and continues talking without apology.  She isn’t crying for empathy.  She is simply crying.

I would like to cry with her.  Cannot and will not.   Eyes well up.  Stay filled to the brim.  And do not leak out.

Some of the best speeches I’ve ever heard have been at funerals.   Think about the ones you’ve attended.   People from all walks of life stand to speak and out flows prose that touches us to the core.  Rarely are the good ones written down.  The bereft simply speak unhesitatingly from the heart.

This is what Michelle does.

When she is done I feel weak.  Like Whoopi Goldberg after Patrick Swayze’s ghost inhabited her body.  Like JZ Knight after she channeled Ramtha.   You get the idea.  The best way to put on a family member isn’t by carefully crafted questions.  It involves simply being the vessel.