Category Archives: Trial Advocacy

The Barrister’s Toolbox Hits 100,000 Views… Thanks to All Who Have Patronized This Site!

I write this blawg (blog) as a labor of love with gratitude for the privilege to pursue my dream job as a trial attorney. I have handled all sorts of cases involving misdemeanors to ones seeking the death penalty. I have been blessed to handle civil rights claims, class actions, along with personal injury claims from small monetary values to ones in the millions.

I have learned that there are no small cases. Every case is the most important case you are handling for that client. I have gained more from my failures, than my successes. Nothing focuses your mind like a loss… so thanks for the loses. They made me a better attorney. My goal every day is to be the best attorney I can and to hopefully be better than the day before.

I have tried my share of cases over the last three plus decades. I have attempted to share some of the lessons I have learned along the way. Hopefully, it will help you as you move forward with your career.

If you read this and have any thoughts or questions you would like to share please post below.

I hope you all have a blessed holiday season and thanks again for reading by blawg.

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The Floor for the Value of a Human Life is Flying High

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 You have a wrongful death claim and need an indisputable source of information to determine the minimum value of a human life.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the federal government published minimum values for the loss of a human life? Well, they have! The U.S. Defense Department has made a conscious decision on this very disputed issue of value.  

The federal government has determined that the minimum value attributable to the loss of one life is $250,000,000 (a quarter of a billion dollars).  How can this be? Where can the supporting information be reviewed?  Well, the F-22 Raptor costs approximately $250 million per jet, replacing the F-15 Eagle which costs $65 million each.

The federal government installs pilot ejector systems on every F-22 Raptor Jet fighter. The government does this to protect the pilot, not the plane.  In order to  save the life of a pilot of a Raptor F-22, the government chooses to sacrifice our most expensive combat jet airplane to insure the pilot lives to fly another day.  The F-22 jet airplane costs $250,000,000 to manufacture.   In spite of this huge cost, the federal government has chosen to install an ejector system to save the pilot’s life even though the ejection of the pilot will result in the certain and immediate loss of a quarter of a billion dollar jet airplane.

How about that…  This analogy was raised some time ago by a trial lawyer by referencing the Eagle F-15.  Well the minimum value for the loss of a human life has just gone up… at least in the eyes of the federal government.

Why Sorry is the Badest Word…

An expression of regret or an apology by a Defendant is nothing new when a case doesn’t settle and finally makes it to trial.  However, should this be allowed?  Why no! 

Defendants should be prohibited from expressing any apologies or statements of regret to the jury in connection with a civil case not seeking punitive damages. Whether one is sorry or not for injuring a person constitutes neither a defense, nor is it relevant to any issue concerning whether or not to grant compensatory damages. The sole purpose of making such a statement to a jury is to encourage them to return a reduced verdict because the Defendant is sorry about what happened and is really a good guy. General appeals to sympathy or prejudice on the part of a jury are inappropriate and should be prohibited by a trial court. The jury’s obligation is to render a verdict for just compensation, not to hear confessions or grant absolution.    Their function is not to forgive, it is to fairly compensate one for their injuries. Only God can forgive.

​Any references made to this effect should not be permitted as they are calculated to mislead and confuse the jury and would clearly be immaterial and irrelevant to any issue involving either liability or damages. See Rules of Evidence 402 and 403. See generally, King’s Indiana Billiard Co. v. Winters, 123 Ind. App. 110, 127, 106 N.E.2d 713, 721 (1952).  So cut this tactic off with a pretrial motion in limine. Otherwise you may be sorry you didn’t.

Impeccable Impeachment and the Use of Prior Convictions

img_0925“Trust is not simply a matter of truthfulness, or even constancy. It is also a matter of amity and goodwill. We trust those who have our best interests at heart, and mistrust those who seem deaf to our concerns.”   Gary Hamel

What are the limitations on the use of prior convictions in challenging a witness’s credibility? When are you allowed to use them? What are you allowed to reveal?  This blawg note will explore these issues.  Let’s first start with the rule:

Rule 609. Impeachment by Evidence of a Criminal Conviction

(a)      General Rule. For the purpose of attacking the credibility of a witness, evidence that the witness has been convicted of a crime or an attempt of a crime must  be admitted but only if the crime committed or attempted is (1) murder, treason, rape, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, arson, or criminal confinement; or (2) a crime involving dishonesty or false statement, including perjury.

(b)      Limit on Using the Evidence After 10 Years. This subdivision (b) applies if more than ten (10) years have passed since the witness’s conviction or release from confinement for it, whichever is later. Evidence of the conviction is admissible only if:

(1)       its probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect; and

(2)      the proponent gives an adverse party reasonable written notice of the intent to use it so that the party has a fair opportunity to contest its use.

(c)       Effect of a Pardon, Annulment, or Certificate of Rehabilitation. Evidence of a conviction is not admissible if:

(1)       the conviction has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, certificate of rehabilitation, or other equivalent procedure based on a finding that the person has been rehabilitated, and the person has not been convicted of a later crime punishable by death or by imprisonment for more than one (1) year; or

(2)      the conviction has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, or other equivalent procedure based on a finding of innocence.

(d)      Juvenile Adjudications. Evidence of a juvenile adjudication is admissible under this rule only if:

(1)       it is offered in a criminal case;

(2)      the adjudication was of a witness other than the defendant;

(3)      an adult’s conviction for that offense would be admissible to attack the adult’s credibility; and

(4)      admitting the evidence is necessary to fairly determine guilt or innocence.

(e)      Pendency of an Appeal. A conviction that satisfies this rule is admissible even if an appeal is pending. Evidence of the pendency is also admissible.

                Juvenile Convictions:  Generally, evidence relating to juvenile delinquency proceedings cannot be used as evidence for purposes of impeachment. Ind. Evidence Rule 609(d) (1996). See also Goolsby v. State, 517 N.E.2d 54, 61 (Ind.1987) (juvenile delinquency proceedings are considered civil in nature and consequently may not be used to impeach a defendant in a criminal proceeding); Perkins v. State, 483 N.E.2d 1379, 1384 (Ind.1985) (holding that juvenile adjudications may not be used for impeachment purposes because the disposition of a juvenile does not constitute a criminal conviction).

Opening the Door: Where a party opens the door to inquiries about his criminal past, evidence of a prior conviction are admissible even though no notice was given pursuant to Evidence Rule 609(b). See Wales v. State, 768 N.E.2d 513, 520-21 (Ind.Ct.App.2002), aff’d on reh’g, 774 N.E.2d 116 (Ind.Ct.App. 2002), trans. denied. 

When Does the 10 Year Period Begin and End:  There is disagreement among jurisdictions as to the termination point of the ten-year period. See 4 J. WEINSTEIN, WEINSTEIN’S FEDERAL EVIDENCE § 609.06[2] (2d ed. 2003) (“There has also been some uncertainty about what event concludes the running of the 10-year period.”). Three different termination points have been identified by various jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions identify the termination point as the date trial begins. See United States v. Thompson, 806 F.2d 1332, 1339 (7th Cir.1986); United States v. Cathey, 591 F.2d 268, 274 n. 13 (5th Cir.1979); Sinegal v. State, 789 S.W.2d 383, 388 (Tex.App.1990). Other jurisdictions identify the termination date as the date the witness testifies or the evidence is offered. See Pepe v. Jayne, 761 F.Supp. 338, 342-43 (D.N.J.1991), aff’d, 947 F.2d 936 (3d Cir.1991); Trindle v. Sonat Marine, Inc., 697 F.Supp. 879, 881 (E.D.Pa.1988). The termination of the ten-year limit has also been identified as the date of the charged offense. See United States v. Foley, 683 F.2d 273, 277 (8th Cir.1982), cert. denied; State v. Ihnot, 575 N.W.2d 581, 585 (Minn.1998).   “Because it is the jury which must evaluate the witness’ credibility, the most appropriate time to conclude the ten year period is the date the jury actually hears the witness testify that he had been convicted of a crime.” Trindle v. Sonat Marine, Inc., 697 F.Supp. 879, 882 (E.D.Pa.1988), cited with approval by, Whiteside v. State, 853 N.E.2d 1021, 1027 (Ind. App. 2006). Judge Weinstein opines that the date the witness testifies is the appropriate termination point of the ten-year period. As he notes in his treatise, “The time of testimony appears most appropriate, since the jury must determine credibility at that moment.” 4 WEINSTEIN § 609.06[2] at 609-49; Trindle v. Sonat Marine, supra.

Guilty Pleas:  The issue of whether a guilty plea, not yet reduced to judgment, constitutes a conviction for impeachment purposes has been resolved here as well. Specht v. State, 734 N.E.2d 239 (Ind. 2000). Prior to the adoption of the Indiana Rules of Evidence, Indiana courts held that a guilty plea did, stating, “when there has been a plea of guilty it is a conviction of crime and the presumption of innocence no longer follows the defendant…. The fact that final judgment was not rendered does not alter the fact that he stands convicted of the crime to which he has entered a plea.” McDaniel v. State, 268 Ind. 380, 383, 375 N.E.2d 228, 230 (1978) (citing State v. Redman, 183 Ind. 332, 109 N.E. 184 (1915)).  McDaniel is still good law under the Indiana Rules of Evidence. Specht v. State, 734 N.E.2d at 240.

Probative Value of Conviction Must Substantially Outweigh Its Prejudicial Effect:   Cases that have discussed Rule 609(b) and the ten-year limitation have dealt with situations where the defendant wanted to impeach a State witness with prior convictions that were more than ten years old. See Stephenson v. State, 742 N.E.2d 463, 485 (Ind.2001);Schwestak v. State, 674 N.E.2d 962, 963 (Ind.1996).  Rule 609(b), unlike Rule 403, presumes the exclusion of convictions more than ten years old. See Robert Lowell Miller, Jr., Indiana Practice, Vol. 13, § 609.202, 170 (1991). As such, the party seeking to admit such convictions “must support the argument for probative value with specific facts and circumstances upon which the trial court may base a finding of admissibility.” Id. In addition, the trial court must balance the probative value against the prejudicial effect of the old convictions on the record under Rule 609(b) for an abuse of discretion. Stephenson, 742 N.E.2d at 485, Schwestak, 674 N.E.2d at 965; see United States v. Reed, 2 F.3d 1441, 1448 (7th Cir.1993).  To be admissible, the probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, must substantially outweigh its prejudicial effect.  This is the reverse of the test under Rule 403 which errors on the side of admitting evidence unless its prejudicial impact substantially outweighs its probative value.

Under Rule 608(b), our courts use the five-part test first enunciated in United States v. Mahone, 537 F.2d 922, 929 (7th Cir.) cert denied, 429 U.S. 1025, 97 S.Ct. 646, 50 L.Ed.2d 627 (1976), and reaffirmed in United States v. Castor, 937 F.2d 293 (7th Cir.1991), is instructive and has been adopted by Indiana courts. Under this test, the trial court is to consider the following five factors, but this list is not exclusive:

(1) the impeachment value of the prior crime;

(2) the point in time of the conviction and the witness’ subsequent history;

(3) the similarity between the past crime and the charged crimes;

(4) the importance of the defendant’s testimony; and

(5) the centrality of the credibility issue.

Castor, 937 F.2d at 299 n. 8; see Miller, at 171.

Impeaching Your Own Witness:  Even though Evidence Rule 607 authorizes a party to impeach the credibility of his own witness, a party is forbidden from placing a witness on the stand if his sole purpose in doing so is to present otherwise inadmissible evidence cloaked as impeachment. Appleton v. State, 740 N.E.2d 122, 125 (Ind. 2001).

Revelations Concerning the Facts Surrounding the Conviction:  When a prior conviction is introduced for impeachment purposes, the details of the conviction may bot be explored. Oliver v. State, 755 N.E>2d 582, 586 (Ind. 2001).  A person can only be questioned about having been convicted of a particular crime, and not the circumstances surrounding the conviction.  Id.   However, if a party elicits information that leaves the jury with a false or misleading impression of the facts involved, such conduct may open the door to additional questions to explore the matter more fully even though such an inquiry would have initially been impermissible.  Id.

Hopefully, the information here will allow you to make use of a prior criminal conviction for purposes of impeachment and prevent such evidence from being misused against your client should the tables be turned upon you.

 

What are the limitations on the use of prior convictions? When are you allowed to use them? What are you allowed to reveal?  This note will explore these issues.  Let’s first start with the rule:

Rule 609. Impeachment by Evidence of a Criminal Conviction

(a)      General Rule. For the purpose of attacking the credibility of a witness, evidence that the witness has been convicted of a crime or an attempt of a crime must  be admitted but only if the crime committed or attempted is (1) murder, treason, rape, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, arson, or criminal confinement; or (2) a crime involving dishonesty or false statement, including perjury.

(b)      Limit on Using the Evidence After 10 Years. This subdivision (b) applies if more than ten (10) years have passed since the witness’s conviction or release from confinement for it, whichever is later. Evidence of the conviction is admissible only if:

(1)       its probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect; and

(2)      the proponent gives an adverse party reasonable written notice of the intent to use it so that the party has a fair opportunity to contest its use.

(c)       Effect of a Pardon, Annulment, or Certificate of Rehabilitation. Evidence of a conviction is not admissible if:

(1)       the conviction has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, certificate of rehabilitation, or other equivalent procedure based on a finding that the person has been rehabilitated, and the person has not been convicted of a later crime punishable by death or by imprisonment for more than one (1) year; or

(2)      the conviction has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, or other equivalent procedure based on a finding of innocence.

(d)      Juvenile Adjudications. Evidence of a juvenile adjudication is admissible under this rule only if:

(1)       it is offered in a criminal case;

(2)      the adjudication was of a witness other than the defendant;

(3)      an adult’s conviction for that offense would be admissible to attack the adult’s credibility; and

(4)      admitting the evidence is necessary to fairly determine guilt or innocence.

(e)      Pendency of an Appeal. A conviction that satisfies this rule is admissible even if an appeal is pending. Evidence of the pendency is also admissible.

Below are some thoughts on some of the issues concerning the use and admissibility of prior convictions:

                Juvenile Convictions:  Generally, evidence relating to juvenile delinquency proceedings cannot be used as evidence for purposes of impeachment. Ind. Evidence Rule 609(d) (1996). See also Goolsby v. State, 517 N.E.2d 54, 61 (Ind.1987) (juvenile delinquency proceedings are considered civil in nature and consequently may not be used to impeach a defendant in a criminal proceeding); Perkins v. State, 483 N.E.2d 1379, 1384 (Ind.1985) (holding that juvenile adjudications may not be used for impeachment purposes because the disposition of a juvenile does not constitute a criminal conviction).

Opening the Door: Where a party opens the door to inquiries about his criminal past, evidence of a prior conviction are admissible even though no notice was given pursuant to Evidence Rule 609(b). See Wales v. State, 768 N.E.2d 513, 520-21 (Ind.Ct.App.2002), aff’d on reh’g, 774 N.E.2d 116 (Ind.Ct.App. 2002), trans. denied. 

When Does the 10 Year Period Begin and End:  There is disagreement among jurisdictions as to the termination point of the ten-year period. See 4 J. WEINSTEIN, WEINSTEIN’S FEDERAL EVIDENCE § 609.06[2] (2d ed. 2003) (“There has also been some uncertainty about what event concludes the running of the 10-year period.”). Three different termination points have been identified by various jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions identify the termination point as the date trial begins. See United States v. Thompson, 806 F.2d 1332, 1339 (7th Cir.1986); United States v. Cathey, 591 F.2d 268, 274 n. 13 (5th Cir.1979); Sinegal v. State, 789 S.W.2d 383, 388 (Tex.App.1990). Other jurisdictions identify the termination date as the date the witness testifies or the evidence is offered. See Pepe v. Jayne, 761 F.Supp. 338, 342-43 (D.N.J.1991), aff’d, 947 F.2d 936 (3d Cir.1991); Trindle v. Sonat Marine, Inc., 697 F.Supp. 879, 881 (E.D.Pa.1988). The termination of the ten-year limit has also been identified as the date of the charged offense. See United States v. Foley, 683 F.2d 273, 277 (8th Cir.1982), cert. denied; State v. Ihnot, 575 N.W.2d 581, 585 (Minn.1998).   “Because it is the jury which must evaluate the witness’ credibility, the most appropriate time to conclude the ten year period is the date the jury actually hears the witness testify that he had been convicted of a crime.” Trindle v. Sonat Marine, Inc., 697 F.Supp. 879, 882 (E.D.Pa.1988), cited with approval by, Whiteside v. State, 853 N.E.2d 1021, 1027 (Ind. App. 2006). Judge Weinstein opines that the date the witness testifies is the appropriate termination point of the ten-year period. As he notes in his treatise, “The time of testimony appears most appropriate, since the jury must determine credibility at that moment.” 4 WEINSTEIN § 609.06[2] at 609-49; Trindle v. Sonat Marine, supra.

Guilty Pleas:  The issue of whether a guilty plea, not yet reduced to judgment, constitutes a conviction for impeachment purposes has been resolved here as well. Specht v. State, 734 N.E.2d 239 (Ind. 2000). Prior to the adoption of the Indiana Rules of Evidence, Indiana courts held that a guilty plea did, stating, “when there has been a plea of guilty it is a conviction of crime and the presumption of innocence no longer follows the defendant…. The fact that final judgment was not rendered does not alter the fact that he stands convicted of the crime to which he has entered a plea.” McDaniel v. State, 268 Ind. 380, 383, 375 N.E.2d 228, 230 (1978) (citing State v. Redman, 183 Ind. 332, 109 N.E. 184 (1915)).  McDaniel is still good law under the Indiana Rules of Evidence. Specht v. State, 734 N.E.2d at 240.

Probative Value of Conviction Must Substantially Outweigh Its Prejudicial Effect:   Cases that have discussed Rule 609(b) and the ten-year limitation have dealt with situations where the defendant wanted to impeach a State witness with prior convictions that were more than ten years old. See Stephenson v. State, 742 N.E.2d 463, 485 (Ind.2001);Schwestak v. State, 674 N.E.2d 962, 963 (Ind.1996).  Rule 609(b), unlike Rule 403, presumes the exclusion of convictions more than ten years old. See Robert Lowell Miller, Jr., Indiana Practice, Vol. 13, § 609.202, 170 (1991). As such, the party seeking to admit such convictions “must support the argument for probative value with specific facts and circumstances upon which the trial court may base a finding of admissibility.” Id. In addition, the trial court must balance the probative value against the prejudicial effect of the old convictions on the record under Rule 609(b) for an abuse of discretion. Stephenson, 742 N.E.2d at 485, Schwestak, 674 N.E.2d at 965; see United States v. Reed, 2 F.3d 1441, 1448 (7th Cir.1993).  To be admissible, the probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, must substantially outweigh its prejudicial effect.  This is the reverse of the test under Rule 403 which errors on the side of admitting evidence unless its prejudicial impact substantially outweighs its probative value.

Under Rule 608(b), our courts use the five-part test first enunciated in United States v. Mahone, 537 F.2d 922, 929 (7th Cir.) cert denied, 429 U.S. 1025, 97 S.Ct. 646, 50 L.Ed.2d 627 (1976), and reaffirmed in United States v. Castor, 937 F.2d 293 (7th Cir.1991), is instructive and has been adopted by Indiana courts. Under this test, the trial court is to consider the following five factors, but this list is not exclusive:

(1) the impeachment value of the prior crime;

(2) the point in time of the conviction and the witness’ subsequent history;

(3) the similarity between the past crime and the charged crimes;

(4) the importance of the defendant’s testimony; and

(5) the centrality of the credibility issue.

Castor, 937 F.2d at 299 n. 8; see Miller, at 171.

Impeaching Your Own Witness:  Even though Evidence Rule 607 authorizes a party to impeach the credibility of his own witness, a party is forbidden from placing a witness on the stand if his sole purpose in doing so is to present otherwise inadmissible evidence cloaked as impeachment. Appleton v. State, 740 N.E.2d 122, 125 (Ind. 2001).

Revelations Concerning the Facts Surrounding the Conviction:  When a prior conviction is introduced for impeachment purposes, the details of the conviction may bot be explored. Oliver v. State, 755 N.E>2d 582, 586 (Ind. 2001).  A person can only be questioned about having been convicted of a particular crime, and not the circumstances surrounding the conviction.  Id.   However, if a party elicits information that leaves the jury with a false or misleading impression of the facts involved, such conduct may open the door to additional questions to explore the matter more fully even though such an inquiry would have initially been impermissible.  Id.

Hopefully, the information here will allow you to make use of a prior criminal conviction for purposes of impeachment and prevent such evidence from being misused against your client should the tables be turned upon you.

 

Limiting the Damage

So you lose an evidentiary argument and the court allows some potentially prejudicial evidence to be presented for some narrow purpose such as bias, impeachment or to show intent, similar plan, motive or scheme.  So what should you do?  

Indiana follows “the rule of multiple admissibility” endorsed by the evidence treatises of both Whitmore and McCormick. Under this rule, evidence that is admissible for one purpose is admissible, even though it might be excluded from consideration by the jury if it was offered for another improper purpose.  The opponent of the evidence is protected, not by exclusion of the evidence, but instead by the use of a limiting instruction. Indiana Evidence Rule 105 provides:

 “If the court admits evidence that is admissible against a party or for a purpose—but not against another party or for another purpose—the court, on timely request, must restrict the evidence to its proper scope and instruct the jury accordingly.”

The party seeking to limit the evidence has the duty to request the instruction. Small v. State, 736 N.E.2d 742, 746 (Ind. 2000) (observing “a trial court has no affirmative duty to admonish a jury sua sponte as to such evidentiary matters”).  As a result you should ask the court to specifically define the area of use and address inappropriate inferences or uses which are prohibited.  Indiana Pattern Instruction No. 527 Evidence Admitted for a Limited Purposes states:

During the trial, I instructed you to consider certain evidence only for specific, limited purposes. You must consider that evidence only for those limited purposes.

Evidence relevant for some legitimate purpose,  can only be excluded if it violates the precepts of Indiana Rule of Evidence 403.  Under this rule, the danger of unfair prejudice has to substantially outweigh the evidence’s probative value in order to exclude it, thereby tipping the scales in favor of admissibility.

Keep these thoughts in mind the next time you need to limit the damage…

The Corrosive Effects of Greed on Credibility 

“Don’t take a good case, try to make it a great case, and turn it into a bad case.”    Richard Cook 

I never take on a new client without sharing the quote above with them.  The most valuable component of any personal injury case is the client’s credibility… period, end of case. If you exaggerate or stretch your claim beyond the bounds of your evidence, then your client will lose credibility, devalue your client’s claim and lose their case.

The number one tactic most defense attorneys use to undermine a personal injury case, is to encourage the injured client to overstate or exaggerate their claim while under oath in a deposition or to omit their history of a past injury to the same portion of the body or to hide a prior collision or claim. The client thinks, “Why tell them, they may never find out.”  However, they almost always do. The defense argues, “Why did your client do these things (they said they couldn’t do)?  Simple… because they don’t have a legitimate claim.”

Honesty is not just the best moral policy, it is also the best economic policy when it comes to the value of a personal injury case.  

So don’t forget the quote and don’t let your client forget it either.

Getting Your Expert Ready for Court – How to Play the Course and Avoid the Rough.

What does an Expert Witness Needs to Know About Court Proceedings? Here are some thoughts to keep you expert out of the rough:

 
1. Review all evidentiary foundations. You should review the appropriate
foundational requirements for the admission of any records, tests, or other analysis which is not
stipulated to by the opposing party. Remember under Rule of Evidence 703, your expert can
consider matters outside the evidentiary record at trial in reaching his opinion.  

2. Standard of proof or level of confidence required. This distinction has
somewhat dissipated. However, a number of judges still require the use of the “magic words.”
Typically, at the beginning, it makes sense to ask that your expert give his opinion in the case
based upon a reasonable degree of medical or scientific probability unless instructed otherwise.
Caution your expert to avoid using the phrase “possible” since it is legally meaningless.  

 
3. Reliance on materials outside of the court record. 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 the expert at or before the hearing. Experts may testify to opinions based on
inadmissible evidence, provided that it is of the type reasonably relied upon by experts in the
field. Federal Rule of Evidence 703. Typically, I would ask the expert ‘If in reaching his  opinions and conclusions in this case, did he use only materials reasonably relied upon by  persons in his field? 

4. Role as an educator/not an advocate. KISS—Keep it simple, stupid! Avoid
technical terms. Use models or diagrams whenever possible. Above all, make it interesting!  The expert should be enlightening, not boring! In this regard, less is more. Get to the point early. The expert needs to be an educator, not an advocate. That’s your job.  

5. Professional demeanor. Make sure your expert has the knowledge and control
to avoiding taking the bait! No matter how the opposing attorney acts, your expert must stay
polite and professional. Avoid sarcasm or insults. Credibility will ultimately be lost.  

6. Review of demonstrative evidence. If you are going to use charts, models or
diagrams, make sure they are properly disclosed in advance, and if possible included with your
expert’s report. Likewise, summaries under Rule 1006 need to be produced in advance.  

7. In court demonstrations or “experiments”. Make sure you practice them and
they will definitely work. You don’t want to hear, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

8. Review prior materials for any mistakes or errors. Look one last time for
problems. Deal with any mistakes or error on direct, and deal with any shortcomings honestly.
You will gain credibility and avoid the sting of these topics on cross-examination.  

9. Absent Subpoena Duces Tecum, limit materials brought to court. Bring only
those items which have previously been produced. Be ready to answer questions regarding
compensation paid, and hours of work spent. Remind your expert that he is paid for his time, not
his opinion.  

10. Contrast and compare expert’s qualifications with those of any opposing
expert. Show what he brings to the table that the other expert is missing, whether it is in the way
of experience, time spent, or knowledge. Show the jury why your expert is the better guide.  

11. Cover adequacy of facts included in any hypothetical questions. If you plan
or may ask a hypothetical question, make sure you review the relevant factors in advance of trial
with your expert so you are both on the same page. Write out your question so you are
consistent in the way you ask it.  

12. Likely tactics of opposing counsel. Know your opponent. In the seminal book, “
The Art of War” Sun Tzu advises:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the
result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy,  for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know  neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”  

Ask around and learn your opponent as well as yourself and your own case, and you, too, will
have nothing to fear.

Expert Witness Reports – Avoiding Litigation Sand Traps – What They Should and Should Not Include

You have hired an expert and are in need of a report or findings for you expert disclosures. What do you do?  Here is a short checklist of things to consider:

 
1. Compliance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26. This probably is a good
place to start. The Rule provides in pertinent part as follows for witnesses hired in anticipation
of litigation:

(2) Disclosure of Expert Testimony.

(A) In General. In addition to the disclosures required by Rule

26(a)(1), a party must disclose to the other parties the identity of

any witness it may use at trial to present evidence under Federal

Rule of Evidence 702, 703, or 705.

Regarding reports, the Rule goes on to state:

(B) Witnesses Who Must Provide a Written Report.

Unless otherwise stipulated or ordered by the court, this disclosure
must be accompanied by a written report—prepared and signed by
the witness—if the witness is one retained or specially employed to
provide expert testimony in the case or one whose duties as the party’s employee regularly involves giving expert testimony.  

The report must contain:

(i) A complete statement of all opinions the witness will
express and the basis and reasons for them;  

ii) The facts or data considered by the witness in forming
them;

(iii) Any exhibits that will be used to summarize or support
them;

(iv) The witness’s qualifications, including a list of all
publications authored in the previous 10 years;  

(v) A list of all other cases in which, during the previous 4
years, the witness testified as an expert at trial or by
deposition; and  

(vi) A statement of the compensation to be paid for the study
and testimony in the case.

As to those witnesses who are typically skilled witnesses or fact witnesses with specialized or
technical knowledge, it states:

(C) Witnesses Who Do Not Provide a Written Report. Unless
otherwise stipulated or ordered by the court, if the witness is not
required to provide a written report, this disclosure must state:  

(i) The subject matter on which the witness is expected to
present evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, 703, or
705; and  

(ii) A summary of the facts and opinions to which the witness
is expected to testify.  

The timing of these disclosures is typically outlined in the Case Management Plan as noted in the
Rule:

(D) Time to Disclose Expert Testimony. A party must make these
disclosures at the times and in the sequence that the court orders.  Absent a stipulation or a court order, the disclosures must be made: 

(i) At least 90 days before the date set for trial or for the case
to be ready for trial; or  

(ii) If the evidence is intended solely to contradict or rebut
evidence on the same subject matter identified by another
party under Rule 26(a)(2)(B) or (C), within 30 days after the other  party’s disclosure.  

(E) Supplementing the Disclosure. The parties must supplement
these disclosures when required under Rule 26(e).  

Do not forget the obligation to seasonably supplement your expert responses!
This obligation is continuing and requires no additional request by the opposing party.

 2. Narrative of facts versus summary of materials reviewed.
Narrative formats are time consuming and subject your expert to attack if he misstates or
misinterprets a record. It also poses problems when there are conflicts in the evidentiary record
that have to be resolved by the jury. Providing a factual summary does require your expert to
review and analyze the record and shows that he has considered all relevant evidence. This
process also better prepares the expert to testify and draft reports may expose gaps in your
expert’s knowledge before final conclusions are reached. However, ultimately the documents are
the best evidence, and listing the items is both cheaper and avoids the pitfalls associated with
summarizing voluminous records.

3. Oral reports versus written reports. Early reports should probably be made
verbally. A summary of findings can be made by counsel in his notes which is protected under
the work product privilege. Once the record matures and the facts are clear, reports should be
considered depending on the requirements of your jurisdiction.

4. The problem with draft reports. Such reports only pose a problem if
discoverable. In federal court only the final draft is discoverable. Check your state law on this
topic to see if it differs. 

5. Communications with expert and the work product privilege.
Such communications only pose a problem if discoverable. In federal court only correspondence
containing assumptions of fact or which outline the factual basis for the expert’s opinion are
discoverable. Check your state law on this topic to see if it differs. 

Working with your expert on providing a report that is accurate, complient, clear and concise is critical.  This checklist should help.

Top Mistakes in Choosing Experts

Here they are…  
1. Hiring an expert too late. Experts can be helpful and sometimes essential in
properly investigating and evaluating a case. They can provide guidance in drafting discovery  requests and determining whether information has been overlooked, withheld or lost. They are  also invaluable in assisting in deposition preparation and questioning of the opposing expert.  

2. Being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Do not save pennies and shortcut what
needs to be done at the cost of your case! Go through the cost and benefits of what needs to been
done early on and decide whether it makes sense to pursue your case through trial. For example,
product liability cases and medical malpractice cases are very expensive to litigate. By getting  an expert involved early on, you can assess whether the case merits the time and money required
to be successful. If you defer expert involvement, you may well incur expenses and invest time  that was better spent on another case.  

 
3. Obtaining the wrong type of expert. Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight! Make  sure you understand the science and technical issues well enough to properly select and screen  your expert.  

 
4. Hiring an inexperienced expert. Experience in the courtroom matters. It holds  true for attorneys and experts alike. Get an expert who “has been there and done that.” This is  not the place to cut costs!  

5. Failing to check an expert’s background. You know your opponent will do so,
so why wouldn’t you check your expert’s background? It’s cheaper to check out your expert
than to have to pay for two experts or lose your case because of problems which could have been
avoided.  

6. Buying a Volkswagen when you need a Mercedes. Get the person who fits the
job, not just your budget! As a Plaintiff’s attorney you will lose your case, disappoint a client
and cost yourself money which you can never recover. As a defense attorney, you risk losing a  case and a book of business. If the insurer does want to do it right, then they better be ready to  pay, or overpay the claim.  

7. Forgetting that “Garbage in equals garbage out”. You must provide your
expert with solid evidentiary material or rock solid assumptions if he is opining on ahypotheticalquestion. If your incoming information is not reliable or ascertainable, you are lost from the
start.

8. Failing to educate yourself. You cannot hire the right expert if you don’t
understand the area of expertise involved. One excellent source to check is the Reference  

Manual on Scientific Evidence 3rd Edition published by the Federal Judicial Center, which
covers all of the common areas of forensic and scientific analysis that usually arise in civil or
criminal litigation. Here is the link:  

http://www.fjc.gov/public/pdf.nsf/lookup/SciMan3D01.pdf/$file/SciMan3D01.pdf

9. Underestimating the value of a good communicator. First and foremost, your
expert must be a good communicator and educator. No one will care how smart he is unless they
can understand and connect with him as a person. He has to be interesting and make the jury
want to lean forward and learn more – not take a nap! As Theodore Roosevelt quipped, “No one
cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

 

10. Lacking clarity on the issue in dispute and the theme of your case. What is your case’s theme? How does your expert move your case forward? Can you phrase the
technical issues so they meld with your broader themes in the case? Don’t forget the forest for
the trees.  

 

Screen Your Expert and Treat Your Case Right by Avoiding Any Big Tricks…

An area which is often overlooked is screening your expert. This is important. Treat it
like you would a major purchase, because it is. 

 
(a) Review and verify Curriculum Vitae. You can devastate an expert if he
lies on his CV. I have done this before with experts who had a long history of testifying.
Surprisingly, even though they had been around for years as experts no one had ever
checked out their background to see if they were legitimate. In one instance I found that
the expert not only wasn’t a professional engineer, but he had never even completed his
degree in engineering! At that time, I used a private investigator to dig up this  information. Today you check such things yourself online.  

(b) Internet search of expert. Do Google, Bing, Google Scholar, Yahoo
searches of your expert using the following format: “ EXPERT NAME” AND “keywords”.  I use key words and phrases such as “ testimony”, “ppt”, “lawsuit”, “pdf”, “
lawsuit”, “deposition”, “You Tube”, “video”, “MIL”, “motion in limine”, “motion to  exclude”, “daubert”, “frye”, “conference presentation”, “author”, “dissertation”, “thesis”,
“capstone”, “expert witness” etc. You can also do a full legal name search using the case
law filter to see if you can find any lawsuits.  

 
(c) Expert databanks. Organizations, attorney associations AAJ, State Trial
Lawyers Association, professional list serves, TrialSmith, Westlaw, Lexus-Nexus, often
provide either searchable databases or bulletin boards where information can be  electronically posted for inquiry and response. Some can be used at no cost, while others
charge a fee or subscription for searches.  

 
(d) Search of reported cases. I would examine both civil and criminal court
dockets, PACER, Westlaw, Lexus-Nexus, electronic court records. Your expert may have
testified or could have been excluded as a witness. Does he have convictions? Does he
have legal or financial problems?  

 
(e) Obtain and check references. Your check should include calls to attorneys listed by your expert as well as attorneys discovered in published cases.  

(f) Verify licensing. Is your expert really licensed or certified? Check– it
should be free. Has he had any disciplinary actions taken against his professional  licensing? How will you handle this at trial? 

(g) Review website and advertising of expert. What does he say? Are
articles attached or linked to the website? Check out his CV and terms of engagement as
an expert.

(h) Review social media of expert. Does the expert have a business or
personal page on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. What articles, videos, or
comments has he posted?  

(i) Eyeball test. What kind of appearance does the expert make? Is he goofy
looking? Is he sloppy or slovenly in his appearance? Is he well spoken? Does he make
good eye-contact? Does he fit the part? Does he have charisma or personality? Would
you want him as your teacher? That is what he will be doing for you: teaching the jury
about your case.

(j) Excluded. Has your expert ever been excluded or admitted to testify over the
objection of opposing counsel? He should know this answer and be able to give you
past hearing transcripts, legal briefs and rulings.

You will be surprised by how much exaggeration and unsubstantiated bragging is contained in an expert’s CV.  Find your expert’s problems before you spend your money and risk your case by placing it in the hands of the wrong “expert.”

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