There has been much controversy surrounding Paula Deen’s recent admission in deposition that she used the N-word “a very long time” ago, and there has been much personal fallout. Escaping public scrutiny, however, is whether Ms. Deen’s attorney should have acted to stop that line of questioning, or taken steps to avoid it all together.
It all started when Lisa Jackson sued Paula Deen and others for sexual harassment and a racially hostile work environment. Ms. Jackson, however, is not a minority as reported in the June 24, 2013 abajournal.com article, Lawyer In Paula Deen Case Says White Plaintiff Had No Standing To Pursue Race Claims, Seeks Sanction. The article reports on a motion filed by the lawyer for Ms. Deen’s co-defendants seeking sanctions against Ms. Jackson’s attorney for, among other things, Ms. Jackson’s lack of standing as a Caucasian to allege racial discrimination.
Last Friday, the Food Network announced it would not renew Ms. Deen’s contract for her cooking show. Three days ago, Smithfield Foods announced it was dropping Paula Deen as its spokesperson. Yesterday, Ceasars Entertainment announced it would rebrand four Paula Deen-themed restaurants, and Walmart announced it would not place new orders for Deen’s products. Target and Home Depot will not place new orders, and diabetes drug maker Novo Nordisk dropped Deen as its spokesperson. QVC is “reviewing [their] business relationship with Ms. Deen,” as is Random House.
This raises the question whether Ms. Deen’s attorney did anything to avoid this train wreck. From the transcript of Ms. Deen’s May 17, 2013 deposition, it appears that Ms. Deen was asked and answered the racial questions without any objection from her attorney.
Looking at this situation as a hypothetical, since all of the facts and circumstances leading up to and during the deposition are not known, there are a number of issues all legal consumers should think about, including:
- Attorneys should object to arguably irrelevant and potentially problematic questions and, if appropriate, instruct clients not to answer.
- Attorneys should mark such deposition transcripts confidential so statements can not be made public.
- Attorneys should seek rulings to limit or prohibit any such questioning before depositions.
- Attorneys should seek to postpone depositions until rulings can be obtained from courts to avoid irrelevant and potentially problematic questioning.
- Attorneys should seek to dismiss irrelevant claims where plaintiffs lack standing.
One of the jobs of litigation attorneys is to protect their clients. Maybe Paula Deen’s attorney did attempt some or all of these actions; LPR has no way of knowing. What LPR does know is that good litigation attorneys think of the potential risks and benefits of all possible avenues of action and inaction and of the opposing sides’ possible steps — how each can bite their clients in the derrière down the road.
Perhaps it is not Ms. Deen’s attorney’s fault that she has suffered personal consequences from her deposition testimony. But, this should be a wake up call for legal consumers. After all, if it can happen to Paula Deen . . . it can happen to you.
You’ve got options. The Center for Legal Practice Reform can help you navigate the attorney/client relationship and level the playing field. Call LPR today for a free consultation – (301) 351-7970.