Paula Deen & The Dirty T-Word

July 1, 2013 News

The words that precede practically every deposition are:

“Do you solemnly state that the testimony you will give in this deposition proceeding will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

If that statement or oath is to be upheld properly, a deponent (a person being deposed), should feel free to tell the truth without being vilified in the press and for taking the duty to tell the truth seriously.

For those unfamiliar, Paula Deen is a TV cook (chef is not quite the right description), famous for cooking the style of food that most crave, fried and laden with butter, and was recently diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes, unsurprisingly.

Ms. Deen is being sued by a former employee in the federal court in the Southern District of Georgia for discrimination and in the course of discovery was deposed. So that most people are aware, a deposition is not ordinarily public record unless the transcript or video is attached to a court filing, and it is confidential to those involved in the case. The public disclosure of a deposition transcript may be the product of a tactical decision by the plaintiff’s lawyers to discredit the defendant in the public eye, to prejudice any potential tribunal of fact, and to place pressure upon Ms. Deen to settle for fear of further evisceration in the press.

Such a lawyer’s ploy, while underhand, even in the era of leaks in which we live, seems to have become acceptable and does not ordinarily attract judicial sanction. It is worthy of note, that such a scorched earth approach to litigation can backfire as the defendant may have less assets to satisfy any judgment, as is the case here with Ms. Deen being dropped by Walmart, Caesars, Smithfield Hams, Home Depot, Target, QVC, and Novo-Nordisk.

So what did she do? In the deposition, Ms. Deen admitted to using the “N-word” in limited circumstances (it is presumed that she is not referring to the word “naughty”). To whom did this come as a great shock? The revelation is about as surprising as one that reports that the Roman Catholic church may have turned a blind eye to buggery.

Ms. Deen was born in Albany, Georgia in 1947, hardly the epicenter of cosmopolitanism, which was built on the back of slave labor and cotton plantations and has been riven with racial divide over the years. Even my cursory knowledge of the Freedom Riders knows that they were arrested in Albany in 1961 and that civil rights activists were arrested for picketing in 1961-1962. Having grown up in such an environment, with the family background, according to a recent documentary that Ms. Deen’s ancestors once owned slaves, one might have been staggered had Ms. Deen not used the “N-word” at some point in her past. For the press to exclaim shock and outrage is disingenuous and ridiculous in seeking to make Paula Deen the scapegoat for decades of institutional and societal racism.

Does this excuse use of the word in ordinary parlance? Of course not. However, what is more important here is that a deponent should feel free, to tell the truth or the “T-word” as I should like to call it. Many witnesses and deponents do not tell the truth and proving otherwise can be very difficult depending on the available evidence.

While the Paula Deen saga may well cause massive damage to a single person’s career, it runs the grave risk of promoting dishonesty in the deposition process, and by extension the law as a whole.

Robert Garson