HOW TO ANALYZE THE STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF A CASE
Attorneys know the strengths of their respective cases; the weaknesses, however, are sometimes overlooked. To evaluate and identify the factual and legal strengths and weaknesses of a case, create a table, with one column for the elements of the cause of action or defense, a second column for the testimonial evidence that corresponds to that element or defense and a third column for the supporting exhibits. The elements are obtained from the applicable code, approved instructions or common law and listed separately in the first column. In the second column, across from each element, is inserted the name of a known witness who can factually establish the existence of that requirement. In going through that process, attorneys should consider whether that person is both available and credible. Obviously, if there is no witness, then one must be found. Ideally, two or more witnesses may be available to testify to the same element, which allows the attorney to decide which witness is better (or best, if there are at least three witnesses) and whether the circumstances require or justify the testimony of more than one witness to support the same element. In the third column are exhibits that help prove, directly or circumstantially, that element and which also make the claim more realistic and tangible. An available exhibit may still raise questions such as Where is the exhibit located, Is it readily and easily available, Is a subpoena or other legal process needed to obtain the exhibit, What foundation (i.e. witness) is needed to authenticate it and Is the person who can establish that foundation available?
The following are two sample tables involving hypothetical facts. Some spaces have been left blank in the second example to reflect the reality that witnesses and physical evidence are not always known or available.
|BREACH OF CONTRACT|
|The existence of the contract||John Smith, the plaintiff, who contracted to buy a building||Agreement to sell the building; emails between Smith and the seller; picture of the property|
|The plaintiff’s performance or excuse for nonperformance||Smith, as promised, deposited funds into an escrow account||Account at ABC Escrow regarding the sale of the building|
|The defendant’s breach||Smith did not get the house; ABC escrow officer states that the funds were not delivered to the defendant-seller||Sale documents of building to a third party; emails between Smith and the seller|
|The resulting damages to the plaintiff||John Smith||Picture of the “lost” property|
On paper, the basics of a breach of contract are present. The circumstances of the breach and sale of the building to a third party, however, are not explained nor is the person identified who can authenticate the sale documents of that building to the third party. The name of the knowledgeable ABC Escrow representative must be obtained to establish the foundation for the escrow documents and to testify what did or did not happen to the escrow funds. Some of these questions can be answered by the deposition testimony of the defendant seller, which had not yet been taken. Last, is Smith, the plaintiff, competent to testify to the value of the property for damages purposes or should an expert be retained for that purpose?
|Unwelcome sexual advances, conduct or comments||Sara Smith, the plaintiff; Tom Roberts, a peer, who heard the comments by a supervisor|
|The harassment was based on sex||Sara Smith and Tom Roberts|
|The harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment||Sara Smith
|The Plaintiff was damaged||Sara Smith|
The above witnesses, by themselves, can satisfy legally all of the elements of the claim, but the more important question is whether that evidence is sufficient to persuade a trier of fact that the plaintiff has proven her claim? The attorney should look for the existence of emails, or other documents, confirming that Smith complained to her employer about the “unwelcome” conduct and, if such writings do not exist, consider deposing the person to whom Smith complained to confirm that she had complained. Additionally, the attorney should consider calling as a witness any therapist who counseled or treated Smith because of the unwanted conduct.
The defense attorney, at a minimum, when looking at the same table, should question whether the offending remarks are severe or pervasive and, if questionable, prepare a legal memoranda on that issue; should look into whether the person who allegedly made the remarks was a supervisor; consider whether Roberts, the witness, can be legally interviewed and, if not, whether he should be deposed and consider whether the employer should conduct an independent medical examination of Smith.
In sum, tables visually present issues that otherwise may not be apparent.
Judge Michael D. Marcus (Ret.)
ADR Services, Inc.
1900 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 250
Los Angeles, California 90067
Copyright Michael D. Marcus, February 2021
Please visit my website at www.marcusmediation.com for information about my mediation and arbitration background and experience. Copies of my previous Mediation Messages and Arbitration Insights are available at the articles link on the website.