It is a good thing that attorneys’ work product is confidential.
I had this Gestalt while cleaning my office, under the watchful eyes of Bert, my secretary. Bert is usually friendly and helpful, offering potato chips, salad croutons and French fries as motivational tools. This was a more desperate situation than usual. My office had deteriorated into a state of unprecedented chaos while preparing for a trial.
In the interests of not finding my decomposing body under a pile of manila folders, or having to extricate a forgotten sandwich from between the covers of a three-ring binder, Bert loaded her semiautomatic rifle. She stood in the doorway of my office, smiling, and refused to let me go to the ladies’ room until I did something about the mess.
Dutifully. I placed things back on their appointed shelves, discovered the missing three-hole punch, which had been the subject of 46 intra-office e-mail communications, and sorted through the detritus.
Among the piles of paper were some legal pads, containing notes made during depositions. In desperate need of distraction, I looked over what I had written. There was a lot of it. My handwriting spread across the page, mindless of the margins, detailing every nuance of testimony, using abbreviations only I could decipher.
There was more. As I sat on the floor, riffling dreamily through one pad after another, I discovered that I had not only described what was said, on and off the record, but everything I had observed, including room dÉcor, what people were wearing, facial expressions and behavior. At a lengthy and contentious proceeding, I had been diverted by one particular individual, having made 32 separate accounts of the fact that he was “twitching,” “snuffling,” appeared “irritable,” and was mysteriously missing his necktie.
I described deponents in flavorful terms, some of which actually appeared in my formal summaries.
Once, when the witness was late, I had begun a short story about an imagined romance between the court reporter and the videographer. The narrative left off in mid-sentence as they were sneaking off to an illicit lunch together at Wendy’s.
My notes reflect that I was acting in the capacity of a member of the grammar police in good standing. Affronting abuses of the language were recorded verbatim, with asides.
In situations when I was neither interrogating nor observing, but was actually representing a client being deposed, I had furiously scribbled instructions, in caps, with underlining and emphatic punctuation. These had clearly been unheeded and unseen by the intended recipients. “Slow down,” I had urged. “Get a grip!”
About a witness who tended to blather, I used one of my mother’s favorite pithy expressions: “Just give the news, please.” At one point it seemed that I had abandoned all hope. Over and over, in red ink, I had written, “Uh, oh.”
I had also issued some reminders to myself, including advisories to treat opposing counsel courteously regardless of an irresistible urge to overturn my coffee in his lap.
If anyone got hold of these, I thought, it would not be good. In addition to everything else, the name of the case, the involved attorneys and witnesses, the location, time of arrival and departure and distance, rounded off to the nearest tenth of a mile, appeared at the top of the page. The elements of a cause of action for libel were laid out for the world to see, in blue, red, purple, black, green and white.
My reverie was interrupted by Bert. She coughed tellingly, intimating that my rest period had ended. I scrambled up from the floor and eyeballed what was left of the wreckage. I told her what I needed to do. Weapon in hand, she marched cheerfully behind me to the shredder.
Amy F. Goodusky, a former paralegal, rock ‘n’ roll singer and horseback riding instructor, is of counsel at O’Brien, Tanski & Young in Hartford.