How to be a Good Witness


In order for an administrative law judge to make a good decision, the judge relies on documents and information from witnesses. As a witness, you have an important role to play by telling the judge what you know accurately and truthfully. The parties to the dispute need your help to assure that the full story is presented.

Please arrive at the courtroom on time. Unless you have been instructed otherwise, you may enter the courtroom to wait. When you are called to testify, you will be asked to come forward and the judge will ask that you promise to tell the truth. At that point, one party will ask you questions, known as “Direct Examination.” Then, the other party will have the opportunity to ask you questions, known as “Cross Examination.”

If you receive a subpoena, do not ignore it. It is an order of the court. If the subpoena directs you to call a lawyer for instructions about the time to appear, do call. It may save you time. You are entitled to receive a small fee and mileage to the courtroom for the inconvenience that testifying may cause you. Please remember that your testimony is important. The testimony of witnesses is a crucial part of the legal process.

You may feel anxious or nervous about testifying in court. Here are some tips to guide you.

Tell the Truth – This is very important. Do not try to color, shade or change your testimony to help one side or the other.

Answer the Questions Directly – Normally you will be asked questions and must limit your answers to the questions that are asked. Listen carefully to the question. If you can answer “yes” or “no,” do so. Do not try to guess why a question was asked, and do not volunteer information that does not respond to the question.

Speak clearly - The hearing will be recorded by digital recorder or a court reporter. It is important that you speak clearly so that every person in the courtroom can hear you and that your statements are accurately recorded.

Stop If You Hear “Objection!” – If there is an objection to a question asked or to your answer, stop speaking. The judge will either “sustain” the objection or “overrule” the objection. If the objection is “overruled,” you may answer the question. The judge will direct you.

Stay Calm – If you lose your temper, the cross-examiner may be able to discredit your testimony, and your testimony may be of less help.

If You Don’t Know, Say So - If you don’t know an answer or can’t recall, just say so. No witness knows all the facts. Be honest.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Lawyers – The lawyers must treat you courteously and with respect. If they do not, the judge will remind them. Listen to the question and give an honest response. If you don’t understand the question, do not try to answer it.

Stick to the Facts – You will only be allowed to testify about the things that you know personally. What you KNOW is important; what you THINK is not relevant.

Relax, But Be Serious - Try to relax and tell the truth. Do not try to be someone you are not. Remember that a court hearing is a serious matter. You should dress and act with due regard for the seriousness of the proceeding. Please do not bring snacks or beverages except water into the hearing room. Water will be provided to the participants in the hearing, including the witnesses.

You may be asked whether you discussed your testimony with anyone before you came to testify. Answer honestly. There is nothing wrong with discussing the facts with the lawyers, parties or others prior to trial. Your role is to tell the truth.

The judge will stop from time to time to take a break during the testimony. If you need a break, tell the judge.

You may call the judge “Your Honor,” “Judge” or Mr. or Ms…….. Any one of these is perfectly acceptable.

THANK YOU FOR PARTICIPATING in this proceeding. Each witness plays an important part in assuring that the facts are fully presented to the judge.