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The heat in the kitchen has definitely been turned up for TV chef Paula Deen, whose deposition in a lawsuit was leaked to the media last week. This time, though, bricks of butter and piles of sugar have been set aside for an even more offensive meal of racial slurs (including usage of the N-word -- and, no, not "nutrition") and a preference for what could be construed as a traditional Southern "plantation style" wedding with all-black servers.
Now Deen has been fired, after the Food Network made the decision not to renew her contract in the wake of her controversial comments.
So, what about that deposition? How did it go public? And is what happened with it actually legal?
When Can Depositions Go Public?
A deposition is an on-the-record interview with a party or witness for the purpose of fact-finding. If a deposition transcript is entered into evidence or filed with other court documents (not all of them are), then it's considered a part of the public disposition of litigation.
Basically, members of the public can find out what was said during a deposition, if the deposition transcript is included as part of the court's record. That is, unless a protective order is issued by the court.
In Paula Deen's case, her deposition transcript was filed with the court as a supplement to another court filing. It seems a local newspaper, the Savannah Morning News, was then able to get a hold of it.
So while it may seem unfair (especially if you're being asked to answer personal or embarrassing questions), depositions can still be fair game. While they usually don't all get leaked out onto the Internet and spread like wildfire, it should really come as no surprise that Paula Deen's deposition did.
Did Deen Have to Go Into So Much Detail?
There are several goals of a deposition. The primary one is to gather facts, and, because the statements given in a deposition are sworn under oath, they are also meant to confirm and lock parties into their stories.
Because depositions are part of the discovery process, it is likely that more information than necessary will be collected, just in case. When it comes time for trial, the use of that information may be objected to by lawyers, but most relevant information will remain.
This means that most of the questions asked of Deen, though they at times led to shocking responses, were appropriate for the issue being litigated. All that was really required from Deen (or anyone being deposed) was accuracy and honesty. As Paula Deen's deposition shows, this can include an "I don't know" here and there, or even the admitted use of racial slurs.