The Importance of Courtroom Demeanor When Testifying

Demystifying Valuation, Economic Damages + Forensic Accounting

It was a bit unnerving to me when I looked over at the jury and saw two of the jury members dozing.

This actually happened to me early in my career providing litigation support services as a CPA expert witness.  As a former police officer and detective on the Tucson, Arizona Police Department I had testified at criminal trials many times.  I never noticed any jury members dozing then – maybe because the cases were a bit more scintillating than those concerning accounting-related issues. 

By the time I started testifying at trials involving civil litigation I thought I was pretty used to the process and would never be so dull as to actually have folks go to sleep as I testified.  I decided that I had to do more to keep the jury involved – and interested, in what I had to say on the witness stand.

 I made a mental checklist that I try to adhere to before and during every trial where I am to testify as an expert CPA witness:   Before trial – a) study my files well before going into court; b) meet with the attorney on my case prior to the trial;  At trial –  a) dress in a professional manner expected of someone testifying at my level of education and experience; b) don’t argue with the opposing attorney; c) don’t go off on tangents talking about issues not asked by the questioning attorney; d) don’t lose my temper; e) be respectful of my questioner no matter how inept he or she tries to make me look to the jury; f) be thoughtful about each question asked of me, but don’t allow too much time to lapse before I answer; g) be a good teacher and  try not to talk over the heads of the jury members with a lot of technical jargon – or, conversely not to talk too far below their intelligence level;  and, h) provide eye contact to the jury members while testifying at a jury trial, or to the judge if I’m testifying at a bench trial.

I found that eye contact was extremely important – whether looking at jury members when I testified or to the judge if no jury was involved.  I challenged myself to speak with an energy and enthusiasm that would be so riveting no jury member would slumber during my testimony.  As I look at the jury I try to imagine myself in a casual one-on-one conversation with them while sitting at my kitchen table.   I’m not saying I’ve never put a jury member to sleep since.  However, I like to think I am now more engaging with the jury, or judge, than I was before.

Don R. Bays, CPA/ABV, CVA, CFF