Celebrity Video Depositions: Respect for the System?

Depositions are a key part of the discovery process in civil lawsuits and generally make the headlines in high profile cases of celebrity legal news. Most of us have a sense of what a deposition is. After all, we’ve seen them on TV and in films. In fact, in the Facebook movie, the Social Network, depositions get a big chunk of screen time. My favorite deposition scene is when Jessie Eisenberg, who plays Mark Zuckerberg, mocks the questioning attorney by checking her simple math and then sarcastically advising her that she is correct.

So, first, what is the discovery process of a lawsuit? Discovery is basically the investigative part of a case after a complaint and answer to that complaint is filed. It is when both sides get to ask questions in writing (Interrogatories), request documents (Document Requests) and seek admissions (Request for Admissions). Depositions take place during discovery and are the oral, generally in person, questioning of witnesses. Oftentimes those question-asking sessions are videotaped. Sometimes lawyers seek to have those tapes protected from public view and prevent them from being released, but not always. And, also, as you can imagine, sometimes even when there is a protective order in place someone, whether at the law firm or the court reporting company, leaks them. But, this post is not going to address leaks and who is legally responsible for them or who can/should be punished for them. What we are talking about are the ones that the public has seen—whether properly or improperly released into the media. And, boy, the ones highlighted below are not like any deposition I have been part of!

1. Justin Bieber: Clearly Bieber was not comfortable in the deposition setting, he was fidgeting, making odd facial expressions and swiveling his chair non-stop. His entire demeanor was one of combativeness and immaturity so if his goal was to come off as if he didn’t care or was not bothered about the situation or the underlying lawsuit the result was the opposite. His lawyers should have prepped him better (or maybe they did but he ignored their advice) then maybe he would not have come off looking like such a little brat. Not that there is much empathy for the plaintiffs—a paparazzo claiming Bieber’s bodyguards assaulted him and stole his camera equipment in June 2013.

2. Lil Wayne: I think Bieber may have watched the video of Lil Wayne’s 2012 deposition before Bieber sat for his own 2014 deposition but believe it or not Bieber actually came across looking worse than Lil Wayne did. Yes, Lil Wayne had a hoodie pulled up over his head, appeared to sleep on his folded arms for a bit, and also threatened the questioning attorney by saying “In the real world, that guy right there [referring to a third party present at the deposition], he can’t save you in the real world, just so you know.” But, in parts of the deposition Lil Wayne is very lucid, clear and repeats pretty lengthy questions back to the attorney. And though he did make the obtaining of information very, very challenging, he wasn’t as impetuous and immature as Bieber. A small shout out of congratulations is due to Pete Ross, the lawyer conducting the deposition for maintaining his cool throughout. Not sure how many other lawyers, even very experienced ones, would have sat so calmly through Lil Wayne’s antics.

3. Tupac Shakur: On the other end of the spectrum is Tupac Shakur’s video deposition in connection with a 1992 lawsuit filed by the wife of a deceased state trooper who claims Tupac’s music caused her husband’s death by inciting violence against police. Throughout the deposition, Tupac is mild mannered, respectful, and calm. Though it is worth noting that at the time of the deposition Tupac was incarcerated for a sexual assault conviction so though the attorney questioning Tupac suggested that Tupac’s answers made him seem like a choir boy, if relevant and deemed admissible by the judge in the case underlying the deposition, then clearly that choir boy image would be quickly erased and neither Tupac’s demeanor or answers in that video deposition would affect that too much—a conviction, a finding of fault beyond a reasonable doubt is pretty convincing information.

If you have the time, watch these depositions or at least the highlights of them and decide for yourself: Disrespectful celebrities, game players or individual seeking to protect their rights?

Thanks to our friend and contributor, Jill Stanley of Proof with Jill Stanley, for her insight into celebrity video depositions.