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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Know Your Legal Lingo Part 2 - Discovery and the Pre-trial Process

Interrogatories, requests for admission, requests for production, motions in limine, motions for summary judgment. What do all of these have in common? They are documents prepared by attorneys during the pre-trial process of a case. Since they are legal documents, you may be wondering do I need to know what they are and do I need to review them? Yes and yes!

Interrogatories

Irogs for short – are questions given to the opposing party on information that may be useful in discovery. For example, the plaintiff attorney is seeking information about shipments of raw materials to a factory over a period of three decades. At a minimum, the attorney will write interrogatories seeking information on whether purchasing records for those materials exist, over what time period, and where they are stored. The attorney may also want to take the depositions of the individuals with knowledge about this topic. In order to know whose depositions to take, the attorney writes interrogatories asking the names, the time period of employment and the current address of those individuals. Defense counsel, with help from its client, is required to respond truthfully to the questions in a defined period of time. Similarly, the defense attorney will write questions for the plaintiffs to answer as well.

Requests for admissions

This document exchange is used to establish undisputed facts in a case that won’t require expert opinion or legal argument as the case moves forward. Using the example above, requests for admission could contain statement like “Admit that over a period of thirty years Company X purchased chemicals from Company Y.” and “Admit that over a period of thirty years Company X purchased chemicals A, B, and C from Company Y.” The opposing side will respond with either "Admit" or "Deny" or "Deny in part" with an explanation. The admissions can be used by experts to establish facts, and the denials will then be argued by both sides to the jury.

Requests for production

Also known as “document production requests,” they are written by opposing attorneys to obtain documents containing information relevant to the case. Using the example above, the plaintiff attorney will request the purchasing records if the response to the irogs indicated they exist.  The defense attorney will also request documents from the plaintiff to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support the allegations in the complaint. This document exchange between parties is critical for experts as it contains a lot of the information relied on for expert opinions. Supplemental requests for documents may be filed by each side as long as the exchange occurs prior to the discovery cutoff.

Motions in limine

These motions are filed by both sides during the pre-trial process to exclude evidence admitted into the courtroom. These motions are filed to exclude documents, fact witness testimony, and most importantly expert testimony. The judge decides the admissibility of evidence, including experts, and he/she will rule on these motions before the trial begins.  In Federal Court, a motion to exclude a testifying expert's testimony is referred to as a Daubert motion. The same holds true for a number of state courts, as well. 

Motion for summary judgment

This type of motion is filed by the defendants arguing there is not sufficient evidence to continue the case to trial. If the judge had ruled in favor of the defendants on its motions in limine, the plaintiffs may be at a disadvantage in which there is not sufficient evidence and the judge can dismiss the case.

The Expert’s Role   

In sum, these documents are extremely helpful for experts to review, and assist in both drafting and responding. Be sure to ask your client about the status of these exchanges during the pre-trial process and how you can be of assistance. Stay tuned for more on this topic soon.   

Submitted by Wendy N. Pearson, President

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