Trials & Litigation

Federal magistrate judge orders lawyers to 'not impugn Chinese culture' in future depositions

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A federal magistrate judge in Georgia ordered lawyers for an injured longshoreman to “not impugn Chinese culture” in future depositions in his lawsuit against a Chinese shipping line.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher L. Ray of the Southern District of Georgia imposed restrictions on future questioning by lawyers at Savage Turner Pinckney & Savage in a Dec. 16 order, Law360 reports.

The Savage Turner lawyers represented Romare J. Green, a longshoreman who said he was injured when a guardrail collapsed as he was exiting a ship owned by a cruise line. He sued the Cosco Shipping Lines Co., a Chinese shipping line and the container vessel.

Ray said the plaintiff’s lawyers had asked questions during depositions that were “demeaning to Chinese culture and to the deponents’ own character.”

In response to objections, the plaintiff’s lawyer “appears to have doubled down, indicating that his lines of questioning were intended to demean Chinese culture, and that such an intent was justified, or at least would not subject him to censure, because of the current state of the American political landscape,” Ray wrote.

Green’s lawyers had argued that they should be allowed to ask about cultural differences that could color the deponents’ testimony.

Ray said that, in future depositions, the plaintiff’s counsel:

  1. “Shall not impugn Chinese culture or suggest that it is to blame for any allegedly negligent” or improper acts.

  2. “Shall not ask questions drawing distinctions between American and Chinese cultures with the implication that Chinese culture is inferior.”

  3. Shall not suggest that the deponents or defendants don’t care about the plaintiff.

  4. “Shall not ask witnesses about the god to which they swear or otherwise question them about religious beliefs.”

  5. “Shall show any future witnesses … respect during their depositions.”

The defense motion for a protective order, filed by lawyers at Ellis, Painter, Ratterree & Adams, included this exchange during a deposition:

Plaintiff’s lawyer: “All right. Is that a concept in China that you’re familiar with, where you kinda con people into thinking you care, and you really don’t?”

Defense lawyer: “Brent, let me object. I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask questions that malign a country or a group of people, and …”

Plaintiff’s lawyer: “How’s it not appropriate? The president of the United States who appointed this federal judge does it every day. Calls it the Wu flu. I mean, I’m not getting into that level. I think this is a mock empathy.”

Law360 spoke with Brent Savage of Savage Turner. He said he has a problem with the conduct of Chinese shipping companies that aren’t taking care of his injured client, not the Chinese people.

He said he would comply with the order.

“I’m not always perfect,” Savage told Law360. “I can admit it. And if Judge Ray says to do something, then I will do it.”

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