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Courtroom Formalities

The legal preliminaries necessary to establish the qualifications of a witness are long and tedious. If the opposing attorney takes issue with the witness's qualifications or testimony, these objections will usually be discussed outside of the presence of the jury. First, the jury must be removed from the courtroom. Then the lawyers and judge spend several minutes discussing the legal issues involved, and finally the jury is brought back into the courtroom. The effect is to break up the flow of trial, making the proceedings confusing and frequently tense.

Testimony is drawn out over a prolonged period. The attorney who calls a witness asks the first questions. The person is then cross-examined (questioned) by the opposing counsel. If there are several opposing parties in the case, the attorney for each of these parties may examine the witness. The original attorney is then allowed to requestion the witness. The attorneys go around the circle until each is satisfied that testimony most favorable to their client has been elicited.

The procedure known as "invoking the rule"--a rule of civil procedure that allows a party to request that a witness be prevented from hearing the testimony of other witnesses in the trial--can be distressing to witnesses. The intent is to prevent witnesses from refreshing their memory or shaping their testimony to fit other testimony. The rule is particularly frustrating to physicians acting as expert witnesses. They will be asked to testify about the validity of other testimony that they are prevented from hearing. Since the attorneys are free to paraphrase the words of other witnesses, perhaps putting a different cast on them, the expert may be in the position of condemning another physician for something the physician did not say or do.


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