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Salt Lake City attorneys weigh in after lawyer fined for pulling a trick-pen stunt with witness

May 22, 2014

Nothing gets Utahns up in arms like livestock, or at least, that’s what one recent case in the state would have you believe. With its courtroom antics rivaling a slapstick comedy show, the case hinged on claims that a local power plant is harming nearby livestock. And one attorney set out with a bag full of theatrical tricks to prove the point of the plaintiffs he represented. According to this article in the Salt Lake Tribune, a trick pen was used to deliver 750 volts of electricity to a witness on the stand. Salt Lake City attorneys like Zaven Sargsian are aware of tactics used by litigators in big business lawsuits, including those related to the ag industry, but concur that the California attorney overstepped his bounds.

The problem, according to the plaintiffs in the case, is that “stray” electrical currents from a Delta power plant are zapping dairy cows. And as most animal rights and whole-organic-anti-additive food advocates know: zapped dairy cows aren’t happy dairy cows. And unhappy dairy cows make unhappy milk. The plaintiff’s arguments were probably better constructed than that, but the idea is generally translatable. The Delta power plant defendants, however, were having none of it, and brought in an electricity expert to set the story straight.

This is when the slapstick started. The expert witness claimed that 1.5 volts, or the equivalent of a AAA battery, couldn’t be felt by a person. Eager to disprove, the dairy farmers’ lawyer Don Haworth handed a kiddie toy—a child’s gag pen—to the expert witness. Haworth informed the witness that the pen contained 1.5 volts, and its packaging label disclosed that the pen “zaps the user with a harmless powerful shock.” The issue with the courtroom jest, Salt Lake City attorneys like Sargsian say, is the deception.  The pen didn’t contain an AAA battery, but had been jimmy-rigged to up the voltage to about 750 volts.

The body of the expert witness jerked, and he dropped the pen. The effect was quite what Haworth wanted, and he likely would have been pleased with the jurors’ faces, had not he himself been fined $3,000 for his trick. Salt Lake City attorneys familiar with the ag industry or simply taking note of the risks the plaintiff’s attorney took are not likely to giggle about the incident (at least not in public). Haworth wasn’t just fined, he was restricted from cross-examining any IPP expert witnesses in the next trial. IPP lawyers have also petitioned the judge to have his license to practice in Utah revoked.

Haworth is a California native. Maybe he doesn’t know better; maybe he doesn’t know how they play it in Utah. That’s unlikely, say Salt Lake City attorneys like Sargsian, who know that licensing in multiple states requires higher standards of responsibility and familiarity with judges and their courtrooms. He couldn’t have expected to get away with it.

Haworth was concluded to have “deliberately misled jurors,” and his conduct was considered to be a “battery of a witness,” with likely no pun intended.

 

 

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