Title: Selections from the Past: Tips on Technical Testimony
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/WL00001341/00001
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Title: Selections from the Past: Tips on Technical Testimony
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida
Abstract: Selections from the Past: Tips on Technical Testimony, By Thomas E. Cone, Jr. with assistance from Anita C. Brannon and Dana G. Toole, 4th Annual Water Management Seminar 1985
General Note: Box 8, Folder 3 ( Vail Conference, 1993 - 1993 ), Item 54
Funding: Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.
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Bibliographic ID: WL00001341
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Holding Location: Levin College of Law, University of Florida
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Full Text



202 Madison Street
Tampa, Florida 33602

with assistance
from Anita C. Brannon
and Dana G. Toole

Presented at the
Fourth Annual
Florida Water Management Seminar
Vail, Colorado
January 19 January 26, 1985


Pitfalls on Deposition of the Technical Witness 9.1

Written Opinion of Experts 9.4

Communication Techniques for the Expert Witness 9.7

The Problem of Expert Hearsay 9.13

cO- ^i


1. What is a deposition? A deposition is your testimony under oath.
You.will be asked questions by the opposing attorney and in some
cases by the lawyer representing your client. The questions and
your answers to them will be recorded by a court reporter. No
judge will be present, and in all likelihood the deposition will
be taken in a private office. There is little difference between
testimony taken at a deposition and testimony taken in the court-
room, except no judge presides at a deposition to rule over dis-
putes as they arise.

2. The purposes of the deposition -- The opposing side is taking
the deposition for the following three reasons: First, they want
to find out what facts you have in your actual knowledge and pos-
session regarding the issues in the lawsuit. They are interested
in what your story is now and what it is going to be at the trial.
Second, they want to pin you down to a specific story so that you
will have to tell the same story at the trial. Because they will
have heard your testimony at the deposition, they will know in
advance what your story at trial is going to be. Third, they hope
to catch you in a lie so that they can show at trial that you are
not a truthful person and that your testimony should not be believ-
ed on any points, particularly the crucial ones.

These are legitimate purposes, and the opposing side has the right
to take your discovery deposition for these purposes and in this
fashion. Correspondingly, your client has the same right to take
the discovery depositions of the opposing litigant and witnesses.

3. Pitfalls to avoid -- Always remember that as a witness you have
no purpose to serve other than to give the facts as you know them,
state the facts that you know, and don't worry about the ones
you don't know. Keep the following guidelines in mind when answer-
ing the questions put to you.

a. Make statements only if you know them to be true. You are
likely to be asked several questions, the answers to which
you do not know but think you should know. The temptation
in such instances is to guess or estimate what the answers
should be. This is a mistake. A guess or estimate for an
answer is almost always the wrong answer and one from which
your opponent can show that you either don't know what you
were talking about or are deliberately misstating the truth.

Generally speaking, the opposing attorney knows the answer to
any questions he asks. He may have asked the question be-
cause he knew you would not know the answer but felt that you
would be compelled to guess. If you do not know an answer to
any question, state that you do not know the answer, even
though you think you might appear ignorant or evasive by so
stating. If you do not know certain information, do not give
it. Furthermore, do not turn to your client's lawyer or ano-
ther witness to ask for the information. Also, do not promise
to get information that you don't have readily at hand unless
your client's lawyer advises it. Do not agree to look up any-
thing in the future and then supplement the answer you were

giving at the deposition, unless your client's lawyer
advises you to do so.

b. Do not volunteer any facts not requested by a question.
State the facts that you know in direct response to the
question asked and nothing more. Avoid the temptation to
make additional statements which might appear to you to be
important. Such information cannot help your case and may
hinder it. You are in no way obligated to provide informa-
tion to questions you are not asked.

c. Tell the truth. The truth in a deposition will never really
hurt your client or you. A lawyer may try to explain away
the truth, but there is no explaining why a witness lied or
concealed the truth. Manufactured facts with no basis in
truth or deliberate concealment of true facts would be devas-
tating to your veracity at the trial and would hurt your
client's case immeasurably.

d. Do not try to figure out before your answer whether a truth-
ful answer will help or hinder your case. Answer truthfully.
Your client's lawyer can deal with the truth effectively.
He or she is handicapped in handling the case when you answer
any other way.

e. Do not give opinions hastily. Generally speaking, we will
object to any question that calls for an opinion outside your
area of expertise. After our objection to such a question,
however, we may advise you to go ahead and answer it. At
that time, if you do have an opinion on the subject, you
may give it. You need not explain the basis for your opinion
unless asked to do so.

f. Never attempt to explain or justify your answer. You are there
to give the facts as you know them. You are not supposed to
apologize or attempt to justify those facts in any way. Any
attempt to do so would make you appear to doubt the accuracy
or authenticity of your own testimony.

g. Do not reach in your pocket or purse for any papers or documents
that may be referred to during the deposition. A discovery de-
position is to elicit facts which you know and have in your
mind, not to produce documents. If the opposing side is interes-
ted in obtaining documents from you, they may employ proper le-
gal procedures for that purpose. Similarly, do not ask your
client's lawyer to produce anything in his or her file. Such
papers also may be obtained by appropriate legal procedures and
are not properly produced at a deposition.

h. Do not be in a hurry to answer a question. Take your time.
The length of time that you take in considering your answer will
not show up in the transcript prepared from the deposition.
When you do start to speak, answer the question in a direct and
straightforward manner.

i. Do not let the opposing attorney get you angry or excited. To
do so would destroy the effect of your testimony and would produce


statements that later could be used to your disadvantage.
Be aware that the opposing attorney may seek to excite
you with the hope of getting you to say things which may
be used against you. By getting riled, you fall right
into his trap. Answer the question truthfully and do not
take it personally or with offense. That way you will
avoid any temptation to become irritated and say things
that you may later regret. An emotional outburst on a
certain point, even though justified by the circumstances
or motivation for asking the question, could be used to
your opponent's advantage in the lawsuit. Give the answer
in the same tone of voice and manner that you would use in
talking with your client directly, or to his lawyer.

j. Never argue with the opposing attorney. By stating your an-
swers truthfully and keeping your cool, you will not give
opposing attorneys any ammunition with which to dispute your
answers. State the facts as you know them to be true and
don't get worried about the way opposing attorneys react to
your answers. The reaction may be an intentional act design-
ed to influence your testimony.

k. Never joke during the deposition. Humor that seems laughable
while sitting around a table will not appear so funny in the
cold transcript typed from the deposition. Jokes and humor-
ous remarks may make you appear crude or cavalier about the
truth of your testimony and the seriousness of the proceedings.

1. At the completion of the deposition, do not chat with the
opponents or the opposing attorneys. Remember that the other
attorney is your legal "enemy". Do not let his friendly man-
ner cause you to drop your guard and become chatty. What you
say can be used against you later.

m. If the attorney representing your client begins to speak, stop
whatever answer you may be giving and allow him to make his
statement. If he makes any objection to the question being
asked of you, do not answer the question until he advises you
to go ahead and complete your answer. If he tells you not to
answer the question, respect that advice.

As 7-.32


r The expert will be able to give a final opinion only after

the lawyer has completed discovery. In the meantime, the expert

can, however, suggest to the lawyer the areas of inquiry for dis-

covery and inspection. For example, if a hazardous machine fell

apart, causing an injury because a crucial bolt turned out to be

soft instead of tempered, the expert can help the lawyer find out

where it was bought, where to get the part drawing and process

specifications, and how to determine the extent of routine main-

tenance and inspection. In other words, the expert can serve as

an investigative consultant to the lawyer.

A preliminary evaluation report should invariably be prepared

and kept in the lawyer's file. It will document on-the-scene in-

Sspections and other observations made by the expert, and it will

refresh the expert's recollection when the expert is put on the

stand four years later. This type of report will be unlikely to

hurt the expert in cross-examination, since it will suggest possi-

ble theories subject to subsequent test and confirmation rather than

state calculations and conclusions. It should be marked preliminary

and should not be given to the client.

Authorities differ on the advisability of preparing a final

report. Some say that it is best, if procedurally possible, to put

the expert on the stand without having previously prepared a "final

report". This prevents the problem some have experienced if the

report is required to be made available to the opponent. A skillful

cross-examiner can disassemble it and make each individual statement,

taken out of context, look far-fetched. Also, if that same cross-

examiner questions the expert from his or her own report, the cross-

examiner doesn't have to remember what the expert said, nor does the

av+- ;.33

cross-examiner have to stumble over unfamiliar technical jargon.

Since the cross-examiner can read the unfamiliar term, the

cross-examiner can hurl it back at the expert with inflexions

indicating disbelief or disdain. On the other hand, a cross-exami-

ner not armed with the witnesses' report is relegated to dangerous

questions such as, "How did you come to that conclusion, professor?"

Fifteen minutes later the cross-examiner knows that he or she is in

trouble but can't remember much of the jargon which no doubt im-

pressed the jury, and which the cross-examiner is unable to effec-

tively counter.

On the other hand, particularly in administrative cases, it

may be essential to produce a final report. The report itself may

be introduced in evidence. The charts, graphs, and photos within

the report may help to explain the opinion, itself.

Generally, in Florida, when the expert's report is considered

"work product", it cannot be obtained in advance of trial by the

opponents. Two prominent exceptions exist. First, if the expert

uses the report to testify from, the opponent will be able to obtain

the report. Second, if the report has been done for or delivered

to a public agency (including its lawyers), it comes within the

Public Records Act. It can be obtained in advance of trial through

discovery. Wait v. F.P.L., 372 So. 2d, 420 (Fla. 1979); Tober v.

Sanchez, 417 So. 2d, 1053 (Fla. 3d DCA 1982), reh den. mem. 426 So.

2d 27; Hillsborough County Aviation Authority v. Azzarelli Construc-

tion Co., 436 So. 2d 153 (Fla. 2d DCA 1983); Miami Herald v. City of

N. Miami, 452 So. 2d, 572 (Fla. 3d DCA, 1984); Edelstein v. Donner,

450 So. 2d, 562 (Fla. 3d DCA, 1984).
Even in those cases where a final report is not produced, the
expert should at least provide his or her conclusions in the form

of terse statements for the lawyer's file. If a hypothetical question

rr -7,.5

is to be used by the lawyer, the conclusion must contain all of

S the ingredients of the hypothetical question which the lawyer

will need. When the lawyer asks the expert the hypothetical,

the expert is asked to assume the existence of each of the condi-

tions necessary to support his or her conclusion. Then the expert

is asked if he or she has an opinion based on those assumptions.

It is prudent to work up several variations of the hypothetical

question before trial, so that a successful objection to one form

of a question can be overcome by offering a variation which may have

less impact, but which will still enable the lawyer to accomplish

his or her purpose.

In the event of a written report, many experts provide a draft

for the attorney's perusal. This assures that the final report in-

cludes all the necessary attributes from the standpoint of law and

avoids any particularly sensitive words, terms or phrases relative

to the specific jurisdiction in which the case is to be tried. The

attorney can not expect to alter the technical opinion. The expert

must maintain independence of opinion, but, at the same time, remain

sensitive to the attorney's need to try the case.



The job of the expert witness is to be an effective advocate

for his or her professional opinion. Within the context of a law-

suit, however, the expert witness's mission is to persuade the

hearing officer (or the jury) to agree that the professional opinion

being advocated is the most reasonable and correct opinion in the

case. It follows that the gentle art of persuasion is a necessary

skill to be mastered by the expert witness.

Persuasion has been defined as the act of influencing the minds

of others by argument or reason, by appeal to both feeling and in-

tellect; it is the art of leading another person's will to a particular

choice. A number of social psychologists have studied the mental

processes that occur when a person is "persuaded" to adopt a particu-

lar position. Some have adopted the view that "persuasion" is the

process of attaching one person's recommendation to another person's


The listener always has a motive or need. That is, a predispo-

sition to move in a certain direction. For example...People want to

make decisions that make sense. People want to be fair. People be-

lieve the truth is admirable and that falsehoods are despicable.

People want to reconcile differences wherever possible.

Both the lawyer and the witness will be more effective if the

presentation is geared towards satisfying as many of these "motives"

in the mind of the listener. Demonstrate to the hearing officer (or

the jury) that the adoption of the proposed opinion as "fact" will

lead to the satisfaction of one or more of these hidden "needs".

Social psychologists have also identified a number of factors

which tend to make some presentations more "persuasive" than others.


For instance, the hearing officer will not be able to remember

everything that happens in the course of the trial. Psychological

studies indicate that most of the substantive content is lost from

memory during the case itself. What remains is essentially a col-

lection of impressions. Studies are now beginning to indicate that

these impressions are largely based upon the manner of presentation

rather than the actual content of the presentation. Some psycholo-

gists are now estimating that more than half of all communication

is non-verbal and that each witness is being evaluated not so much

by what is said, but by how it's being said.

What then are some things that the witness might do to improve

communication and enhance retention of the proffered opinion?

1. Be aware of the signals your "body language" is

sending to the hearing officer. Be conscious that your ap-

pearance influences your presentation. Your mastery of the

subject matter and of the facts (or lack of mastery) is

sensed at a subconscious/subliminal level.

2. Psychologists have learned that people remember things

better if they use more than one sense when the item is intro-

duced. Wherever possible, use demonstrative exhibits to involve

more than one "sense" of the hearing officer. Oddly, the sensory

impression which seems to be retained the longest is the sense

of smell. The sense of hearing, alone, often creates the least

memorable impression. To improve comprehension and retention, try

to give the hearing officer something that can be touched, something

that could be tasted, something that could be smelled, and at a

Cf minimum, something that can be seen.

3. Avoid "employment jargon". Both the lawyer and the expert

must avoid professional jargon which impairs comprehension.

S4* 1s31

It's always difficult, if not impossible, to remember something

C that doesn't make any sense to the listener. What meaning, if

any, is conveyed to the listener by the following attempt to dis-

tinguish the drawdown effects in confined aquifers from those

which occur in unconfined aquifers:

When water is pumped from a confined aquifer,
the pumpage induces hydraulic gradients toward
the well that creates drawdown in the potentio-
meteric surface. The water produced by the
well arises from two mechanisms: expansion of
the water in the aquifer under reduced fluid
pressures, and compaction of the aquifer under
increased effective stresses. There is no de-
watering of the geologic system. The flow sys-
tem in the aquifer during pumping involves only
horizontal gradients toward the well; there are
no vertical components of flow. When water is
pumped from an unconfined aquifer, on the other
hand, the hydraulic gradients that are induced
by the pumpage create a drawdown cone in the
water table itself and there are vertical com-
ponents of flow. The water produced by the
r well arises from the two mechanisms responsible
for confined delivery, plus the actual dewater-
ing of the unconfined aquifer. (Excerpted from
Groundwater, Freeze & Cherry, 1979, page 324.)

How much, if any, would be retained if this quote had been a

part of lengthy verbal testimony about a pump test?

4. A conversational style between the lawyer and the witness

is more effective than "acting out a script". Both the lawyer and

the witness need to respond to what they hear...and, of course,

they need to listed to what the other person is saying. What is.

said by "actors" when they are "acting out a script", is not as

persuasive as the information that's derived from the mutual inter-

change of ideas and information which occurs in a conversation.

5. Powerful speech using "impact words" will paint a better

(" verbal picture in the mind of the listener. Wherever possible, use

colorful, "image producing" language. Note the difference between

"blown apart" instead of "explode".

-.aA 1-38

Also, beware of speech patterns that incorporate:

a. Intensifiers...i.e., very, definitely,

very definitely, surely;

b. Hedges that reduce the force of an assertion

by allowing for exceptions, i.e., like, sort

of, a little, and kind of;

c. Especially formal grammar;

d. Hesitation forms that fill what would other-

wise be silence, i.e., uh, eh, mmm, ya know;

e. Questioning forms that place a rising intona-

tion in a context that is intended to be declara-


All of the foregoing tend to be speech patterns of a "power-

less" speech style. Researchers have hypothesized that listeners

will discount the credibility of speakers who employ these low

power speech patterns. This powerless style indicates the speaker

lacks confidence in what he is saying. If the speaker lacks confi-

dence, why should the listener?

6. Be aware that responses can be induced by the form of the

question. Researchers have studied differences in responses to

questions that use the definite article (the) versus the indefinite

article (a). In certain experiments, subjects viewed a film of a

car accident and then answered questions about events which occurred

in the film. The results show that questions with an indefinite

article (i.e. "Did you see a broken headlight", as opposed to...

"Did you see the broken headlight?") lead to many more "I don't

Know" responses. Subjects who were asked questions with an indefinite

article were more than twice as likely to respond "I don't know".

Asked questions with a definite article, subjects tended to commit

A IWIt .o39

themselves to a "yes" or "no" response. It has been theorized

- that this difference results because the witness assumes that

when the speaker uses a definite article, the article actually


This can quickly lead to inaccuracies as a result of "trick

questions". For example, after seeing an accident film in which

there were no broken headlights at all, seven percent of the viewers

responded "yes" to the question, "Did you see a broken headlight?"

When the definite article was used, "Did you see the broken head-

light?", fifteen percent of the viewers gave false "yes" answers.

(Loftus & Zanni, Eyewitness Testimony: The Influence of the Word-

ing of a Question, 5 (1) Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society '86


The implications of this research for lawyers and witnesses,

alike, are clear. Different forms of questions may be consciously

used to elicit desired answers and to create desired effects on a

hearing officer or jury.

7. Lastly, the importance of "first impressions" must never

be discounted. A study in a series of "mock" trials in Chicago a

number of years ago determined that "eighty percent of jurors make

up their minds regarding liability after opening statement, and

never change their minds". (Colley, Friendly Persuasion: Gaining

Attention, Comprehension and Acceptance in Court, Trial, August

1981, et. 42).

Other studies have indicated that the opening statement gives

the jury a schematic framework into which they will "fit" the evi-

"1 dence and testimony introduced later in the trial. Just the promise

of testimony proving a defendant's innocence, has tended to make

juror's sympathetic to a defendant's case, even though such testimony

.ArI1' P

was never entered into evidence. In other words, the initial
statement made by defense counsel can influence the way jurors
process and retain information that's presented later on during
the course of the trial. This, of course, may influence the

verdict. Researchers suggest, therefore, that lawyers should not
be shy about promising jurors favorable evidence in the course of
their opening statement.

A s -Ui ____


As lawyers, legal scholars and students of "Perry Mason"

are aware, the law is uniform in its general distaste for

"hearsay". Traditionally, hearsay statements have been denied

admission in a court of law unless the statement has a unique

indicia of reliability justifying its use. However, while these

traditional principals have been gradually incorporated into our

modern Rules of Evidence, certain other exceptions to the general

rule against hearsay have also been adopted. Rule 703 of the

Federal Rules of Evidence provides that:

The facts or data in the particular case upon
which an expert bases an opinion or inference
may be those perceived by or made known to him
at or before the hearing. If of a type reasonably
Relied upon by experts in the particular field in
forming opinions or inferences upon the subject,
the facts or data need not be admissable in evidence.

Virtually identical language has been incorporated into the

Florida Evidence Code. Section 90.704, Fla. Stat. (1983)


90.704 Basis of opinion testimony by experts.
The facts or data upon which an expert bases an
opinion or inference may be those perceived by,
or made known to, him at or before the trial. If
the facts or data are of a type reasonable relied
upon by experts in the subject to support the opinion
expressed, the facts or data need not be admissable
in evidence.

The first parts of these rules follow the Common Law fairly

closely. The usual way for an expert to become familiar with the

facts or data to be explained is to obtain them before or during

the trial. Recognizing this practice, under the common law the

usual technique was for the examiner to pose a hypothetical


question. In turn, this question was answered on the basis of

admissable evidence and the expert's accumulated experience.

This is in marked contrast to the plain meaning of the

second part of the rule. As the Advisory Committee Notes

observe, the drafters of this Rule intended to recognize current

practice, and in so doing streamlined the process of presenting

expert evidence. In this sense, the Committee succeeded. Where

once a succession of experts testified in turn as to their own

observations and findings, now a single well-read expert can

accomplish each of these tasks. However, by allowing an expert

these testimonial short-cuts, an expert can now rely upon the

previously inadmissable evidence and experience of others as

opposed to his own. Suffice it to say, this rule represents a

radical and controversial departure from prior legal practice.

However, of equal importance to what this rule says are issues

relating to what it doesn't say.

First, while the rule clearly allows the use of evidence,

if "reasonably relied upon" by other experts, it does not tell us

who decides what sort of evidence is reasonably reliable the

witness or the judge? In this context, it is generally accepted

that it is the job of the judge to determine whether the expert

sufficiently relied upon source materials. However, there is a

sharp difference of opinion as to the determination of what sort

of data is "reasonable". While some jurisdictions and

commentators have argued that the determination of "reasonable

reliance" is best left to the trial judge, other jurisdictions

have ruled that this is not a realistic view. Obviously,


requiring a judge to second guess an expert places quite a burden

upon the court especially when the data involved is unfamiliar.

In addition, it has been persuasively argued that this approach

makes a nullity of the streamlining approach suggested in the

second part of these rules 3 J. Weinstein & M. Berger Emerging

Problems under the Federal Rules of Evidence (1983).

Therefore, the more liberal and consequently more

accepted approach is that set forth in In re Japanese

Electronics Products, 723 F 2d 238 (3rd Cir. 1983). In rejecting

the restrictive approach, the Court of Appeals held that an

expert is entitled to base his opinion on all the relevant data

available to him, without judicial interference. In this

context, the expert is allowed to sift, weigh, and present all of

the available information, while the sole function of the trial

judge is to determine whether the data is of a "type" reasonably

relied upon.

In practice this approach has resulted in opinions being

grounded on everything from conversations with other experts to

materials supplied by the Plaintiff's attorney. See e.g. Mannino

v. International Manufacturing Co., 650 F 2d 846 (6th Cir. 1981);

American Universal Ins. Co. v. Falzone, 644 F 2d 65 (1st Cir.

1981). Accordingly, the jury must not only consider the

evidence, but also is forced to pass judgment upon the

reliability of unfamiliar data.

In addition to creating problems with respect to the

judicial division of labor, this approach also raises unanswered

issues concerning the scope of expert testimony. For example,


-Q ;q9Y

may an expert detail for the jury the inadmissable data on which

he based his opinion? The rules seem to allow this description;

Rule 705 explicitly provides an expert, in giving his opinion,

may detail the reasons for this opinion without prior disclosure.

This practice is also allowed in Florida. Fla. Stat. Section

90.705 (1983) provides:

90.705 Disclosure of facts or data underlying
expert opinion
Unless otherwise required by the court, an expert
may testify in terms of opinion or inferences to
give his reasons without prior disclosure of the
underlying facts or data. On cross-examination,
he shall be required to specify the facts or data.

However, none of the rules tells us-whether or not a motion

in limine is available to preclude the expert from describing

otherwise inadmissable evidence. Therefore, the only certain way

to totally exclude this type of evidence is to challenge it as

prejudicial, confusing or as a waste of time, Rule 403, Federal

Rules of Evidence; Fla. Stat. Section 90.403 (1983). However,

the problem of relying too much on this rule is that its

application hinges totally on the trial judge's discretion. As

such, the practitioner should be prepared to combat inadmissable

evidence not only before, but after its introduction.

Because of these inherent difficulties, cross-examination

remains the most reliable method of opposing expert hearsay.

This in turn mandates a thorough pre-trial sequence of discovery

in order to determine exactly what the expert's basis of opinion

will be. This type of discovery is expressly allowed under both

the Federal, and Florida Rules. See Rule 705, Federal Rules of

Evidence; Fla. Stat. 90.705 (2) (1983). By discerning the


opposing point of view early, consultation can then be made with

other experts to determine the weaknesses inherent in an expert

witness's "plan of attack". In addition, this sort of pre-trial

preparation will prepare the practitioner for pre-trial

conferences, as well as for preparing his own rebuttal evidence.

See Rule 1.200, Florida Rules of Civil Procedure (1984 Supp.).

In summary, while liberalized Rules of Evidence have

streamlined the process of offering expert testimony, they have

also created the possibility for widespread abuse. Accordingly,

both experts and lawyers should strive to use expert testimony

for its intended purposes, and not as a vehicle for introducing

otherwise inadmissable evidence. Only through pooling the

respective talents of both lawyers and experts can these

practices be prevented, and the intended streamlining process




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