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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. If real money was spent on this study, what a shame. And if some air-head professor tries to use this to advance a career, pity the poor student. I am approaching a time that i (and others around me) should be vigilant. I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet, but seeing the subject I was looking forward to something I might use to look for some benchmarks. When finally finding my way to the hidden questionnaire all I could say to myself was...what a joke. Those are open and obvious signs of any impaired lawyer (or non-lawyer, for that matter), And if one needs a checklist to discern those tell-tale signs of impairment at any age, one shouldn't be practicing law. Another reason I don't regret dropping my ABA membership some number of years ago.

  2. The case should have been spiked. Give the kid a break. He can serve and maybe die for Uncle Sam and can't have a drink? Wow. And they won't even let him defend himself. What a gross lack of prosecutorial oversight and judgment. WOW

  3. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  4. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  5. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

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