The Missouri House committee investigating Gov. Eric Greitens is undertaking an unusual spectacle this week: reading hour upon hour of legal proceedings out loud, together.
These are not dusty documents. They are transcripts of depositions — question-and-answer sessions —between Greitens’ attorneys and the woman with whom he has admitted having an affair in 2015, identified in court documents only as K.S. The questions were, at times, personal and initimate, such as her sexual preferences and practices apart from her relationship with Greitens.
They were part of the criminal prosecution of the governor on a felony invasion of privacy charge — which has been dropped — alleging he took a nude picture of the woman without her consent. A special prosecutor, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, is considering whether to refile it.
K.S. has alleged unwanted, coerced sexual contact with Greitens, too, accounts that the House committee has called "credible." She spoke publicly this week for the first time since charges were filed in March, saying the governor has misrepresented their relationship. But Greitens has denied that anything criminal or nonconsensual took place in the relationship, claiming prosecutors and lawmakers investigating him are part of “a political witch hunt.”
KCUR’s Brian Ellison talked with Kansas City attorney Carrie Brous, who frequency represents plaintiffs in sexual harassment and discrimination cases, about the line of questioning from defense attorneys on things like oral sex and pornographic websites. (The following is an edited transcript of the conversation between Ellison and Brous.)
What is a deposition?
A deposition is a time where the respondent, the person answering the questions, is under oath as if they were in a courtroom, in front of a judge and a jury. But there's no judge or jury present. It's a court reporter. But you are sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
An attorney for Greitens asked K.S., “You wanted to see him again, didn’t you? … Some of the thoughts you had were of being in love with the idea of E.G., right?” What seems to be going on there?
I think it's a technique that is used to try and discredit the victim … It's legal. I don't know that it's effective. I think it has the effect of actually making the testimony more credible. When someone is subjected to kind of ridiculous questions, or questions that are come off a little bullying, they look credible when they tell their truth and don't let that faze them.
It seems like part of a broader legal strategy to somehow suggest that everything that happened in the relationship was consensual — that “she wanted it” or “she asked for it.” How typical is that?
That’s very typical. It’s called the "sluts and nuts" defense.
"Sluts and nuts"? How does that work?
The defense lawyer is trying to show that the conduct was welcomed, because of how you behave in your life, is the theory. … And the testimony, I mean, no matter what you do in your private life, it doesn't matter, right? You should not be sexually harassed at work. You should not be sexually assaulted. And so it's not relevant. It's not admissible. But it's a technique to yes, make the witness uncomfortable. … The "nuts" defense part of is it that you are mentally unstable and why should we believe anything you say. It’s a technique. It’s not illegal. I don’t think it’s effective, especially in front of a jury. I think people see it as bullying and get upset.
Some of the questions in this deposition have nothing to do with the relationship between K.S. and Greitens. The attorneys ask her about how often she wears a bikini. Are they able to ask those types of questions?
There are limits. If it’s truly harassing or horrible behavior, you could call a judge. But judges typically don’t want to hear from you during a deposition.
So where’s the line?
That’s a good question. I think with the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up, the line might be shifting in favor of plaintiffs, and a judge might shut that down. But the deposition rules are broad. Anything that might reasonably lead to the discovery of admissible evidence are things you can ask about.
Brian Ellison is host of KCUR’s Statehouse Blend Missouri podcast and reports on Missouri government and politics. Follow him @ptsbrian.