Ever had a client lie in court? Not sure what to do?
According to San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teri Jackson, your best bet is to withdraw from the case.
|The ABA in SF |
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She spoke to a crowded room Thursday afternoon at the Moscone Center in an American Bar Association panel entitled “Lying Clients and Untruthful Witnesses.” San Francisco attorneys Nanci Clarence of Clarence & Dyer, James Brosnahan of Morrison & Foerster and Merri Baldwin of Champman Popik & White also spoke on the panel.
“From time to time, I have heard testimony that was preposterous,” said Jackson sarcastically. The judge, who currently presides in felony trials, told a funny story about the “far-fetched testimony” she once heard from a defendant in a drug case, who claimed that he had been kidnapped in Oakland, forced to stuff the drugs in his mouth, and was driven across the bridge.
It took the jury an hour to deliberate, but the case ended up with a conviction, she said.
Lawyers need to stress to their clients that unbelievable testimony can be considered during sentencing, she said.
In California, however, a lawyer can’t be completely frank and say, “I wish to withdraw from this case because my client lied or will lie.” So Jackson suggests merely telling the judge that there is a conflict. The judge will likely grant that motion, she said. But if not, she advises lawyers in criminal cases to ask to do a narrative testimony. And for lawyers in civil cases, she advises them not to call their client to the stand.
The bottom line seems obvious, but warranted restating from Jackson: “You cannot promote perjured testimony.”
Of course, as Brosnahan pointed out, the hard part is talking your client out of lying. The most famous example of that, he said, is his lawyer friend who couldn’t convince then President Bill Clinton not to say, “I never had sexual relations with that woman.”
— Millie Lapidario