Another Viewpoint on Trial Coverage

The NorthDecoder has an interesting take on my decision to halt posting of daily testimony until the jury in Long v WSI and North Dakota gets the case. 

In his piece called the WSI Woodshed, Chad Nodland, who is an attorney, and therefore knows this topic far better than this layperson ever could,  lays out how attorneys prepare witnesses, and how there is a line that can be crossed between appropriate and inappropriate witness prep.

Nodland writes:
There is a practice used by lawyers who do trial work, and it is called "woodshedding."  The term is, originally, a term used by musicians who use it to describe what they do when they "hole up" and practice their musical instrument in a place where nobody can hear them; "behind the woodshed."  

When trial lawyers talk about "woodshedding," they're talking about something very similar, but in the court trial context.  They're talking about a lawyer having a meeting or meetings with a witness or witnesses before they testify, in order to make sure "they get their story straight."  When I've heard the term used, it's always used in a negative context, but some lawyers probably think "woodshedding" is okay.   I'll agree a certain amount of witness preparation is okay.  So there's a fine line between "witness preparation" and "woodshedding."  

Some lawyers have long, distinguished and hard-earned reputations for "woodshedding" their witnesses.   It does not surprise me even slightly that Sue had her "a-ha" moment while Special Assistant Attorney General Randy Bakke was cross-examining Sandy Blunt.  In fact, I would have been surprised in this case if she hadn't had that perception.  But I, unfortunately, did not get a chance to visit with her ahead of time about this.  Or I didn't think to talk to her about it.
There's much more to this piece, well worth reading at NorthDecoder.com.

Here's what I will say:  The attorneys representing the state are exceptionally well staffed.  Every single day, two State attorneys and WSI's Jodi Bjornson sit at the defense table, aided by a paralegal.  In addtion, there are frequently many observers on the Defense side of the room, and I am told they are WSI attorneys.  I do not know these people, so I can't say for sure.  There is no paralegal on the plaintiff's side. Long sits next to his lone attorney, Tom Tuntland, and now that he is no longer on the witness stand, it is Long who retrieves necessary documents from file boxes.  

Tuntland's witnesses appear to me to be largely unprepared.  He frequently hands them documents which they have not seen before, or have not seen for a long time.  It takes a while for them to get up to speed.

Randy Bakke and Mitch Armstrong's witnesses, on the other hand, have clearly reviewed documents before they came to court, and they do seem to anticipate and answer questions with information that the defense had not asked.  Were they prepped?  I'm sure of it.  Was it woodsehdding?  That I cannot answer.


I still stand by my decision not to post until the trial goes to jury.  If you take the time to review the stories and information on SueWilsonReports, you will see that reforming the media so it serves the public interest is my number one goal.  And that is nowhere more important than in a trial.  I must serve as an example - to the best of my ability anyway.

But as to Chad's request that I fill people in on the some of what's going on, yes, I believe in good faith that I can do that.

Just remember, I'm kind of like Tuntland:  One lone reporter who does not get to take a laptop into court.  So be patient with me, OK?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are being played. True transparency is the only solution to government misconduct. If it can't stand the light of day, it's wrong. Bakke's witnesses all are briefed -- religously--I know..we do it..that's what we get paid to do.

Shed light..daily..that's the answer.

Anonymous said...

If woodshedding is a common thing amongst attorney's - Why would WSI "NOT" take this route to ensure that nothing is said that they do not want said! They are after all .... a government agency - Can't they do what ever they want behind closed doors??? And maybe, just maybe the JUDGE should be asking these witnesses whether or not anyone has discussed things with them before questioning even begins- He may be in for a real awakening?