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IBA: Expert Witnesses Merit Special Consideration

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By, John F. Kautzman
Ruckelshaus Kautzman Blackwell Bemis & Hasbrook


When it comes to witness control expert witnesses just like lay witnesses need to be managed. This is often achieved through the same techniques, however some other special issues also need to be considered when examining experts.

Never “turn over the floor” to the adverse expert witness. The expert will take the opportunity to “teach the jury.” And will no doubt win the credibility battle.

It has been said that “success is where preparation meets opportunity.” With experts, preparation is indeed essential. Do your homework, and try to learn as much about the witness’s substantive area of expertise as possible. If you gain the expert’s respect with your knowledge of the subject matter, you’re sure to gain the admiration of the Jury. With even a working knowledge of the subject matter, you are sure to gain important concessions from the expert that will bolster your theory of the case.

Your preparation should be thorough, and should include interrogatories and depositions; the review of expert literature and treatises; a careful examination of all records, reports, and other documents. If possible, consult your own expert to help prepare your cross-examination as well.

Special topics of inquiry for experts should also be considered. They include the following: professional service fees, expert testimony fees, whether these fees have been paid as of yet – intimating that the expert might in fact have a financial interest in the outcome of the case, and how many times the expert has testified on behalf of plaintiffs or defendants (“the hired gun”).

Slice away at the expert’s qualifications to narrow his expertise. Peel away all the things that he is not an expert on.

The corollary of this is to build upon irrelevant areas of expertise that the expert may possess, and then point out on final argument that those areas of expert testimony are simply not an issue in this case.

Push the envelope of the expert’s opinions, and vary the hypothetical questions that your opponent has posed to the expert. For example, ask the expert if “ this particular fact was changed, would that in fact change your opinion?” If the expert admits that the distinguishing fact would change his opinion, focus on proving that distinguishing fact and thereby making the expert your own. Likewise, if the expert refuses to change his opinion regardless of the facts, you can simply argue in final argument that the expert is unreasonable and is obviously a paid hired gun with a preordained fixed opinion.

Consider having the witness define technical terms and phrases so that his testimony is placed in the context of everyday language. Experts often have difficulty doing this, and it also helps remove the mystery and aura of self importance surrounding experts.

Point out that the expert’s opinion is based solely upon the subjective information relayed to him by the adverse party. In this way, you may be able to argue in summation that the expert is an honorable person, but was simply provided biased information by the opposing party.

Always demonstrate that the witness has no firsthand knowledge of the facts of the case. In other words, the expert undoubtedly was not an eye witness to the controversy in question, so he is simply basing his opinions on second hand knowledge. By following the basic techniques for witness control, and keeping in mind the special guidelines for experts you should have no trouble at least limiting the impact of the adversarial expert, and at best turning him into an expert of your own.

Reference material and suggested reading : Fundamentals of Trial Techniques by Tom Mauet, Cross Examination-Science and Techniques by Larry Pozner and Roger Dodd, The Litigation Manual – A Primer for Trial Lawyers from the American Bar Association, and The Power of the Proper Mindset by James W. McElheney.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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