Trials are often won or lost based upon credibility determinations. More often than not, cases are replete with he said/she said situations, or real differences of opinion as to almost every issue. In an interesting unreported Appellate Decision released on July 15, 2009, credibility was critical. As the author of this post was the successful trial and appellate attorney in this matter, I am fully familiar with the facts.
Aside from being important at trial, credibility determinations cannot be overturned on appeal. On top of that, as long as the Appellate Division finds that there was sufficient credible evidence in the record, the trial court opinion will be upheld.
In this case, the issues were more than he said she said. In the six months between when the wife said that she wanted to get divorced and the filing of the divorce complaint, the husband’s law practice which had been growing and flourishing each year, suddenly became less profitable, if he was to be believed. He was not believed. Both the wife’s testimony as well as her forensic accounting expert’s testimony were deemed more credible.
It was not just the wife’s word that was so compelling. Rather, at trial we produced thousands of pages of exhibits that supported the issues we presented. It was not surprising, on appeal, that defendant argued that there was no evidence in the record – but to do so, he had to fail to comply with the rules and submit the trial evidence. The wife was forced to remedy this.
On almost every issue at trial, the husband was deemed not credible. This included findings of discrepancies in his Case Information Statement, violation of Court Orders, lack of credibility regarding the marital standard of living and his income, etc. The Appellate Division’s assessment of the husband was perhaps even more severe:
Finally, in an amended notice of appeal, defendant seeks review of an order entered on September 24, 2007 denying his motion for recusal of the trial judge. Defendant claims that "the trial [judge] made several inappropriate credibility determinations about defendant and his experts to justify rejecting the testimony and objective evidence presented at trial." After reviewing the record, we find no evidence of bias
against defendant. The court made credibility determinations based upon the evidence presented and defendant’s demeanor and testimony. We give great deference to the trial court’s credibility findings and will not upset them unless they are patently contrary to the credible evidence in the record. State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 470-71 (1999).
Moreover, if this had been a jury trial, the court could have given the "False in One, False in All" charge, instructing the jury that if it found that defendant had testified untruthfully in one instance, it could find his entire testimony to be untruthful. Since numerous discrepancies in defendant’s financial information were brought to light during trial, the "False in One, False in All" principle applies.
The ramifications of not being truthful are rarely so clear. We are obviously proud of the result obtained for our client in this case.