Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 27, 2009

"That's When We Were Going to Get Married", Part I.

On my cross-examination of the Respondent, she blurted out, "That's when we were going to get married in Las Vegas."

And that's when I knew we were going to win this trial.

By way of background, the Respondent was a caregiver to a gentleman north of 90 years of age. At the very end of his life, while in the endstages of lung cancer (and suffering from hypoxia), he had allegedly signed two documents which she posited changed his will or trust to give her one-third of his considerable estate.

When we subpoenaed this gentleman's bank records we uncovered that he had signed numerous checks to the caregiver towards the end of his life, which she cashed. These checks included one for $20,000 and one for $1,350 (apart from her wages). In her deposition, she gave an explanation for the $20,000 and claimed that she couldn't remember what the $1,350 one was for.

At trial, she changed her story about the $20,000, and then I impeached her with her deposition testimony and earlier interrogatory responses.

Regarding the $1,350 check, I showed it to her on the stand and expected to get the same response that she allegedly didn't know its purpose.

Instead, I got a gift.

As noted above, she said that it was for their hotel expenses in Las Vegas to get married. Given that the case involved issues of undue influence, I pursued the matter. I had remembered from earlier discovery responses (under oath) that she was married, so I asked her, "You were married at the time, right?"

She said she hadn't been with a man for years.

I replied, "That's not my question; you were married when you went to Las Vegas with this 91-year-old man thinking that he was going to marry you, correct?"

She hedged: "I was separated."

I persisted: "Again, that's not my question; you were not divorced at the time you went to Las Vegas with this 91-year old man thinking he was going to marry a woman he could not legally marry, true?"

She finally conceded that he was not legally divorced and hence still legally married.

My trial instincts impelled me to inquire just a bit further about the Vegas trip (even though I didn't know the precise answer to the next question, because I quickly calculated the risk was minimal to my side to ask). After she said they travelled by bus to Vegas and stayed only a weekend, I asked where they stayed in Las Vegas, thinking the only accomodations that could reasonably explain this huge charge would be the Venetian, Bellagio or the like. She incredibly testified: "the Super 8". So, $1,350 was the alleged charge to stay at the "Super 8" in Las Vegas for a couple of nights. Obviously implausible. I wondered, but didn't ask, if the charge also included bullet-proof vests for them.

We received the ruling this week. Relying heavily on the complete evisceration of her credibility at trial via the cross-examination, the Court declared the purported will/trust amendments to be invalid, and ordered the money the caregiver "wrongfully" took from the decedent returned
--multiplied by a factor of two pursuant to California Probate Code Section 859--and then ordered that my clients (the gentleman's two children) receive their attorneys' fees from the Respondent.

Part II will involve how I turned one client into an expert witness on linguistics in the trial.