We recently sat down with Corey Wehmeyer, a litigator and the managing shareholder at Santoyo Wehmeyer. Corey represents energy industry participants, and his clients include operators, working interest owners, mineral owners, drilling contractors, pipeline companies, mining companies, and more. His firm is unique because they have the largest group of board-certified oil and gas attorneys in Texas.
Corey’s experiences with post-COVID depositions in Texas offers powerful insight for all attorneys in this new normal. The last several months have resulted in entirely new deposition processes, forcing attorneys and experts to adjust their approaches, and account for the shift to video depositions.
The interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.
Corey: The courts here have only recently begun opening to nonessential civil hearings. There are certainly outliers, with San Antonio being one of them. We pretty seamlessly [moved] everybody over to remote Zoom hearings right off the bat and conducted court business as usual, albeit via Zoom. At least for the small counties that surround here, the nonessential civil matters have only been taken up by Zoom hearing as a consistent matter over the last 45 days.
The courts have been very efficient and good at using technology. I would say beyond Zoom hearings, I have not heard of any in-person hearing being conducted outside of the one federal context we had. With respect to the deposition, I think that we’ve probably had 30 Zoom depositions and 20 Zoom hearings now.
Corey: The biggest difficulty that I’ve experienced is the court reporter. I think having a good court reporter that hears well or that has a good audio feed is probably the biggest thing. This is so the court reporter does not have to constantly interrupt for clarification and is basically able to hear.
Outside of that, I think the depositions have been very efficient and a good way to save expenses and costs by avoiding travel, if the exhibits are exchanged in advance.
Corey: Well, there’s certainly less access to counsel to visit about the subject matter of the testimony during breaks. It’s common when you present an expert witness, that you get your breaks every hour to an hour and a half. In the ten minutes to stretch your legs or get some water, you can talk about expert’s demeanor, areas that can be fleshed out during testimony, or areas of inquiry that they should prepare for. That kind of conversation with the counsel and witness is now more complicated, and there’s certainly less of it. I would expect that for less experienced experts, they’re probably less comfortable with the procedure and the testimony just because they have less of the hand holding from counsel because they’re not physically there with them.
Otherwise, I would say that the biggest change is in handling exhibits, especially for a very technical expert. For example, in a royalty accounting matter, it’s not as simple to just get to the correct page or get to the correct Excel spreadsheet and point at the particular figure that’s being asked. That becomes more cumbersome. It just adds to the length of depositions. Something that might have taken an hour before, especially in a technical expert setting, now takes an hour and a half. Purely because the question and answer require more time through the Zoom process and the exhibits’ handling is more unwieldy.
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