Justin Bieber’s legal battle with the paparazzi became tabloid fodder this week when he delivered some of his usual sass to the lawyers interviewing him under oath in a lawsuit against him by a paparazzi photographer who claims Bieber and his bodyguard beat him up.
During the deposition, Bieber became defensive in several video clips posted by TMZ that feature him questioning whether this is a media interview and whether the lawyer is “Katie Couric.” “Are you calling me Katie Couric?” the lawyer said. “Is this a news interview for you? Cause it’s not. It’s your deposition. Do you understand that?” He responded in the affirmative.
But as Bieber gets a fast introduction to both the English language (he was corrected when he said he was “detrimental” to his own success rather than “instrumental”) and the legal system, here are a few things he can learn about the legal process:
1. You can’t close your eyes and tune out the lawyer questioning you. At one point during the five hours of questioning, Bieber closed his eyes and said to the lawyer questioning him, “I don’t have to listen to anything you say.” Actually, he does. A deposition is a mechanism in civil trials for gathering evidence in advance of the presentation before the jury or judge. Witnesses are deposed via subpoenas, which require them to appear, and to answer all questions unless they have a relevant objection. The force of law is exactly what makes a deposition different than a news interview.
2. You can’t pretend not to know someone you know. When asked whether Bieber knew Raymond Usher IV, the singer believed to be a longtime friend, he initially said, “No.” The lawyer asked him a second time, calling him an “entertainer by the name of Usher,” at which point he changed his answer to, “Yeah, Usher. That sounds familiar.” He later agreed that Usher was a close friend and confidante. Bieber may have thought his sarcasm was cute. But a deposition is a formal part of the legal proceedings in civil cases. And even though Bieber was questioned before both parties’ lawyers and not a judge, he is subject to very similar rules, including an oath: he swears to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, so lying amounts to perjury.
3. You don’t have to talk about your drug use if it’s not relevant to the case. While Bieber can’t blow off the questioner and replace snark with real answers, he does have the right not to answer questions for a number of legal reasons. After a DUI incident earlier this year, Bieber tested positive for Xanax. So when asked by the lawyer whether Bieber has a prescription for the sedative, Bieber immediately responded “No.” But Bieber’s lawyer piped in, “Give me a chance to object, ok.” That’s probably because Bieber retains a Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when a question could subject him self-incrimination. In Bieber’s case, the risk of incrimination is particularly high, because charges against him are pending in the DUI incident. Bieber’s lawyer had a number of other objections to other questions that tested the limits of relevance, including several about Bieber’s love interest Selena Gomez. Only issues that are relevant to the case at hand are fair game for depositions.
4. You might be expected to answer questions that will later be ruled invalid. Lawyers can only ask questions that are relevant to the case during a deposition, and the plaintiff’s lawyer seemed to have tested this limit, asking numerous questions about Bieber’s love interest Selena Gomez, his drug use, and other ancillary topics. But because there is no judge at a deposition, it is common practice for lawyers to establish their objections and then have the witness answer the question anyway, so that a judge may later decide whether the objection was valid. As a consequence, Bieber may have been called upon to answer questions that have now become public, even though they wouldn’t survive legal objections.
5. If you’re famous, it is reasonable to expect your deposition might become public. Through a leak from an unknown source, this five-hour probe has been made public, with a select few minutes of clips that may reveal only Bieber’s most irritable moments. So even though a deposition is significantly different from a news interview in that the law dictates what you must or have a right not to say, Bieber was onto something when he analogized the interview to “60 Minutes.”
If the plaintiff’s lawyer planted the leak, he would have had particular incentives to ask out-of-bounds (e.g. irrelevant) questions even though he knew they would ultimately not survive objection, because they would nonetheless be the subject of public scrutiny and coerce Bieber to settle the case for fear of future humiliation. Then again, it could just as well have been Bieber’s lawyer who leaked the tape, aiming to solidify Bieber’s reputation as a pop star with “swagger.” Winks and smirks at the camera throughout the clips suggest Bieber may have anticipated a larger audience for the legal proceeding —
Either way, the likelihood was high that what started as a legal proceeding could ultimately become a basis for further scrutiny of Bieber, who went through adolescence in the spotlight, and is being sued in the first place because he allegedly lashed out at a paparazzi photographer.