Deposed in the USA

All my visits to North America have been business trips where I have sometimes been able to take an afternoon or more for a bit of sightseeing and on others I have had just the time left over after a business meeting and before the flight.

My first visit to the new world (in 1980) was the result of a lawsuit. The NEB held 99% of the shares in British Leyland who had sacked a distributor in the North West of the USA. The distributor had taken them to court and had named everyone they could think of in the action.  At one point we got a message “Michael Edwardes has been deposed” which would have been a little disheartening considering the trouble we went to to get him into the post of Chairman and CEO of BL Ltd. In fact what had happened was that he had gone to the US and made a deposition before the plaintiff’s lawyers and this too was the reason for my trip.

I had only a week’s notice and my out of date passport was updated and a visa rapidly organised. I reviewed all our relevant files and had meetings with our lawyers who were also briefing our US attorneys. My task was to explain that we knew nothing about the detail and that the decision was BL’s not ours. How many different ways can you say “I know nuffin”.

Since there was at that time no direct flight to Philadelphia I arranged to fly from New York to Philly on the way out and to take the train back to New York and spend a night there before returning home. So I duly boarded a jumbo to cross the Atlantic (operated I think by TWA) and then transferred to a twelve seater for the hop down to Philly. Quite a contrast. I booked in to the hotel at nearly midnight US time. The night was punctuated by the sound of police car sirens. I was in the States.

Next morning was clear and bright and bitterly cold, but it was a dry cold so not too unpleasant. I took a short walk to our Attorney’s offices where I had a meeting and was briefed on the procedure for the deposition. This essentially was like being cross examined in court except that there was no judge present. Everything said would be recorded using a special machine which allowed faster typing than a conventional typewriter. Questioning would be by the plaintiff’s lawyers with ours there to ensure fair play.

After lunch I was given a tour of Philly by one of the junior lawyers. We visited the Liberty Bell (still cracked) and Independence Hall (which was at one time the Pennsylvania State House). The building where Legionnaires Disease had first surfaced was pointed out along with other landmarks. That evening I was taken for a meal in one of Philly’s fish restaurants.

Next morning was D-day, the deposition. We went to an office where I was asked questions about our business, our relationship with BL and our knowledge of the decision to change distributors. There was some amusement that our Chairman was Sir Arthur Knight (prompting “night knight” comments) although he had not been Chairman at the time in question. A few times I had to repeat my answers for the benefit of the stenographer (I couldn’t understand her accent either). When this was successfully completed (I was later described as a model witness) I headed for the station to board the train for New York.

The American city station style is to have a large marble clad hall spanning all the tracks with stairs down to each platform. The train itself looked as if it had been made out of old metal dustbins – it was metallic and corrugated – and soon trundled off up the track and into central New York where I caught a yellow cab to my hotel.

In New York I took a walk down Fifth Avenue and into Times Square visiting Macys and other famous stores. I did a little shopping particularly in a Disney Store (it was some decades before they would arrive in London).  There were newspaper reports of a mad axeman travelling the subway.  I also had a short walk into Central Park where I was given a dirty look by a very large squirrel.

I had the best part of the next day available before my flight home so I took a walk downtown first visiting the United Nations building where I took a tour. Next stop was The Battery where I got a good view of the Statue of Liberty. It was a sunny day. Final visit was to the World Trade Centre where a series of lifts rattled and clanked their way to the top. The view across New York was spectacular and some years later I got a good view of the Twin Towers from the plane on a homeward flight from Philly.

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My overall impression was that I preferred Philadelphia to New York. Thinking back the comparable memories are of the walk from my hotel to our lawyers offices in Philly and the walk along the streets in New York. The first was on a clear bright morning with open space and not too many people. Although the weather was similar in New York everything else was different.

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