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Monday, July 11, 2011

Something new under the sun: Actors for hire to read depositions

ActorsatLaw This was news to me. But it is an ingenious idea.  Hire a professional actor to read a deposition instead of some law office staffer. The actor performs the role of the deponent in character. More interesting. Attention holding. There is a local production company (Actors at Law) here in Miami that specializes in casting readers.

I do wonder -- comments are welcome -- what evidentiary and procedural limits and objections might apply.

Thomas E. Baker

Posted by Thomas Baker on July 11, 2011 at 11:27 AM | Permalink

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Comments

The large and prestigious law firm I used to work for hired professional actors for their mock trials. I remember being very impressed by the actors, especially the faux expert witnesses.

Posted by: GU | Jul 11, 2011 11:44:58 AM

In law school, they combined Evidence, PR, and trial advocacy into a single 10-unit program, all taught via problems and role-playing exercises. They often brought in actors for the PR and trial advocacy classes.

The problem with this is the potential for the actor to "reinterpret" the text by the tone of voice, use of emphasis, enunciation, etc. What the actor says may be very different from what the actual witness says. Of course, you have the same problem no matter who is reading the transcript or how "neutrally" they try to read it. So my guess is most judges will let it go, perhaps with an instruction for the jury to pay attention to the words and a reminder that the actor is not the witness.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jul 11, 2011 1:55:26 PM

I would never use such a shameless tactic and if I encountered opposing counsel doing so i would call them out in front of the jury that their testimony is so weak that rather than the lawyer or a paralegal read it that they had to pay an actor to create a cadence or vocal harmony to make the testimony palatable to a jury they're attempting to hoodwink.

Posted by: Marc R | Jul 11, 2011 2:10:01 PM

Here is an account of one of the in court performances from a longer article available at:

http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com/riptide/2011/07/need_a_witness_lincoln_road_fi.php:


Manny Fernandez was defending an insurance company in Miami-Dade court when a witness, speaking in a halting, Ecuadorian accent, got emotional when he recalled seeing his roommate mauled in a construction accident. "He was amazing," Fernandez says. "I was really blown away."

The testimony was especially impressive because the real witness -- the man who'd actually seen the accident -- had moved out of the state and couldn't come to the hearing. The man on the stand was a professional actor paid to read a deposition in his best Shakespearean tenor.


Posted by: Thomas E. Baker | Jul 12, 2011 11:18:51 AM

I have often mentioned in my evidence classes that when a deposition is simply read into the record much is lost because intonation, etc. isn't there and these things can be critical. That inclines one to see a trained reader who will add inflection etc as necessary to getting the full benefit of the testimony. The only problem is whether the actor will be giving the reading the way it was originally or whether it will be an alternative take on it. Trained actors know how to read a text to give multiple meanings and impacts and there is no way to know which is the "authentic" one. For that reason I suspect there is a really good 401 relevance and 403, unfair prejudice argument that there no real foundation for whatever reading the actor gives it and thus whatever the actor adds to the dry transcript is likely to be unfair.

Posted by: Tamara Piety | Jul 12, 2011 1:05:41 PM

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