Even a U.S. Supreme Court justice can mess up a cross-examination.
During a Chattanooga Bar Association-sponsored education seminar Wednesday, visiting Utah attorney Todd Winegar spieled through historically significant trials to show local lawyers examples of legal excellence and failure.
Speaking at the Walden Club, Winegar used the Nuremburg trials to illustrate how a difficult witness can take control of a lawyer's questioning.
What should have been a legal high point for then-Justice Robert H. Jackson instead became one of his professional low points.
Black-and-white video footage and audio recordings showed how Hermann Goring used Jackson's vague, open-ended questions to justify Nazi actions during World War II and how the witness stand nearly became a political-rally podium.
Winegar gave Jackson, who had not tried a case in years before Nuremburg, some deference.
"Sometimes we forget trial skills are just that; it's a skill that grows rusty if you don't use it," he told the group of 20 local lawyers.
Key points for lawyers to remember when cross-examining witnesses are to avoid vague, general questions and keep questions short, he said.
Sam Quattrochi, a Chattanooga-based civil defense lawyer, said that though many of his cases don't go to trial, some of Winegar's advice would help him deal with difficult attorneys and witnesses during depositions.
"I'm just thinking about the trials that I have coming up and, if anything, I have to change my approach to those," Quattrochi said.
Local lawyer Rosemarie Bryan said the event kept the mandatory legal education credit interesting.
"He's presenting actually helpful information in a nonpedantic way," she said. "It's real life, it's historically interesting."
Winegar, who practices law and teaches legal education classes to attorneys, said he used to use some historic cases as examples and decided to build a daylong class out of just historic trials after continual good feedback from students.
"There is a history in the law that the law is not always right and justice is hard to obtain," he said. "You obtain it one trial at a time. So their work is important."