Welcome to the Ayo & Iken legal roundtable. We tackle the toughest legal issues with down-to-earth commentary you can use from our expert panel of attorneys from Tampa Bay to Orlando.
In this edition, I discuss with our attorneys the tricky position of dealing with someone who is lying in court. New Port Richey Attorney Bruce Przepis said a very poignant thing to me about this issue. He told me how much faith he has that people will take the formality of court seriously; painting a picture of a judge in his or her robe, with the American flag behind the bench. His hope is such a scene means something to people and will instill in them the desire to be truthful in order to obtain the best possible outcome for families dealing with the suffering of divorce. Of course, he added that he is not naïve and untruthfulness is a fact of life, even in the hallowed walls of our court system. So how does he and our all of our attorneys deal with someone who is lying? And how do our attorneys broach the subject of truthfulness with their clients?
We talked about these issues with our New Port Richey Attorneys Przepis and Allison Belcher; Orlando Attorneys Jason Ponder, Jennifer Schulte, and Beth Clause; Tampa Attorneys Alberto Ayo, Jeana Vogel, and Kristal Knox; and St. Petersburg/Clearwater Attorney Claudia Blackwell. Here is what they had to say:
How do you handle a situation where you know someone in lying in court?
It starts with the deposition. We bring someone in and ask them questions under oath. Typically, we would have that deposition transcribed so when we get to court, we tend to ask the same questions. If we find that they answer differently, then we can bring that out in front of a judge and impeach them with their prior testimony. Then I think is becomes obvious that they are not being truthful. Also, sometimes judges on their own will believe something that has been said is not an accurate portrayal based upon logic, testimony, or documents. And sometimes people are just bad liars. They make facial expressions or they refuse to make eye contact and it becomes fairly obvious they are not telling the truth.
That is something that has to be confronted through inquiry and it is left up to the ability of your lawyer to make sure it is clear or as clear as can be during a hearing or trial that the opposing party is attempting to deceive the court. If your attorney is able to do that, you will reap the benefits because credibility is an extremely important part of our court system.
The first thing you have to do is get someone to state their story so that person’s claims are fully understood. After you have gotten their story down, you want to find the holes in that story and point those out. That way the judge or jury can see that a person is not being honest because there are holes in their story.
Lying in court is a very serious and egregious thing to do. Normally, when you are in a hearing, you want to bring up those inconsistencies to the court and make sure the court understands that the testimony a person is giving is not necessarily the truth. That is important because the court will take that testimony and those inconsistencies into account when determining the voracity of a person’s story. I believe it is important to address a lie at the point when it happens. If it is a situation where a person has lied on a document, basically any information you can gather to stress inconsistencies and bring them to the court’s attention is important.
If I know someone is lying to me in court, I usually remind them that they are under oath and sometimes even ask them if they understand what penalty of perjury means and to describe it. I will then slowly ask them my question again and ask if they have a different answer. If they keep the same answer, hopefully I have some other type of document or something I can use to impeach them right then and there. The issue the court has is most of what we present comes down to a he said she said battle. So having your client appear to be most believable is very important. The court has to determine who they want to believe.
I would take that on during cross examination. So if I have the proof where I can show the person is not telling the truth, we do it right away in court. That is one of the best things you can do to combat a lie because it ruins that person’s credibility. The judge then questions everything they have to say thereafter.
Is proving someone is lying difficult?
You are going to have to have proof that someone lied. So if you did a deposition prior to a hearing and you have the transcript, if a person’s testimony is different you can impeach the party’s credibility. And that goes toward the judge taking into consideration that person’s testimony.
It is not always easy to determine. First, you have to determine if someone is lying or telling their side of the story or what they believe to be their side of the story. Sometimes people don’t view what they are saying as a lie, but just how they view something through their eyes. But if someone is lying I immediately bring it to the attention of opposing council to try to correct it with the court right away. I don’t look kindly on lying. We are there to put our side of the story forward truthfully.
Do you feel like judges have a sense for when someone is not telling the truth?
Yes. Judges will ultimately take the testimony of all the parties and determine who is credible. Not just based on one fact but based on all of the factors of the case.
I believe so. To some extent judges are always in a heightened state of awareness if you will and skeptical to some extent as to whether they can believe what a particular party has said.
Is truthfulness something you address with your clients as well?
Certainly. I will not accept my clients lying in court. I tell my clients that they must be truthful to the court and they must always be truthful to me. I make that very, very clear. Honesty is an essential part of an attorney/client relationship and it is a necessity and requirement under our laws for a client to be forthright and truthful to the court. There are no exceptions.
I always tell my clients they have to be honest with me and they have to be honest with the court. The truth always wins. Maybe it takes a while for the truth to win at times, but the truth in the end always brings the best result.
I stress to my clients they are not to lie. If I were to find out that my client purposely lied or perjured themself in court I would have to immediately address it with them to notify the court of whatever was wrong.
Is there a particular area where people tend to be untruthful, and what can happen if a lie is discovered?
The biggest area where I find people are not completely honest is on their financial affidavit. I often see people called out when they make their expenses higher than they are or don’t list some of their assets. Fraudulent financial affidavits are very serious and there are sanctions from the court if it is discovered. The severest thing is if a final judgment is based on a fraudulent financial affidavit, you can go back and actually have that judgment set aside.
There will never be a shortage of people who lie. So it is a really great thing that we got together and covered this all important topic. That wraps it up for today. Thanks to the Ayo and Iken legal team for pitching in today. Meanwhile we hope to see our readers come back to the Ayo and Iken roundtable. See you then !
Our specialized content, video, and other informative media are based on input from Ayo and Iken team members, outside guests, former team members of Ayo and Iken, independent journalists, and subject-matter authorities. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the official position of Ayo and Iken. Attorneys that are not current team members at Ayo and Iken may be reached through their member listing on the Florida Bar website: www.flabar.org