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I am a parent who is going to a special education impartial hearing without a lawyer. I have read that with school district witnesses, I am allowed to ask questions of the form "Isn't it true that...?" But I don't relish the prospect of asking district employees (who work with my child!) a lot of questions with that phrasing. Is there some more gentlemanly way of accomplishing the same thing?

Please note, special education impartial hearings are a bit more lax than regular court cases, but are still a formal affair. The "judge" is usually called an "Impartial Hearing Officer (IHO)".

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Some people recommend to use plain English and avoid extra words. (Charles Bruess. What You Didn't Learn in Law School about Trial Practice. 2008. p. 128)

Instead of:

  1. "Isn't it true that you paid $X in January?", or
  2. "Is it true that you paid $X in January?",

you could ask:

  1. "Did you pay $X in January?"

The first two options don't even necessarily mean the same thing. Answering "yes" to the first question could mean, "yes, it isn't true." This is why this kind of phrasing is discouraged.

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The answer, it turns out, is that "isn't it true that..." has no real alternative in certain situations; however, it was surprising how quickly I got the hang of posing questions that way.

The first time I found myself in a situation requiring that format of question, I beat around the bush and then the hearing officer rephrased my question with "isn't it true that", asking me if that was the question. I said yes, and with difficulty repeated the question the way he had proposed.

The second time such a question was needed, I apologized and then spat it out.

The third and subsequent times, I just asked, and I was fine.

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