Author Archives: Kimberly DelMonico

About Kimberly DelMonico

Kimberly DelMonico is a licensed attorney in New York and Nevada. She received her law degree from William S. Boyd School of Law at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and her undergraduate degree from New York University, where she studied psychology and broadcast journalism.

USA legal system conceptual series - Illinois

Illinois Considers Updates to Supreme Court Expert Discovery Rules

Two proposed changes to the Illinois Supreme Court Rules that are pending before the Chicago Bar Association Civil Practice Committee affect expert witness discovery. The affected rules are Illinois Supreme Court Rule 203 and Rule 213.

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 203

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 203 is titled, “Where Depositions May Be Taken.” Its current version was effective January 1, 1996. The rule currently reads, “Unless otherwise agreed, depositions shall be taken in the county in which the deponent resides or is employed or transacts business in person, or, in the case of a plaintiff-deponent, in the county in which the action is pending. However, the court, in its discretion, may order a party or a person who is currently an officer, director, or employee of a party to appear at a designated place in this State or elsewhere for the purpose of having the deposition taken. The order designating the place of a deposition may impose any terms and conditions that are just, including payment of reasonable expenses.”

The proposed changes to the rule would require a controlled expert witness to come to the county where the case is pending for the deposition. Under the new rule, an expert would be responsible for his or her expenses, which would then get passed on to the party. This rule would apply whether the deposition was for the purposes of discovery or evidence.

Opponents to the proposed change argue that this would impose burdens on parties that they may not be able to bear, by requiring them to pay travel fees for their chosen expert witnesses. The opponents note that the proposed rule shifts the costs of expert travel to benefit the deposing party. They argue that the cost of an in-person deposition should be borne by the party who requests that deposition. The new rule would also remove the option that currently exists to have the expert travel to the county where the case is pending because it is cheaper to pay to have the witness travel than the lawyers.

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 213

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 213 deals with “Written Interrogatories to Parties.” Its current version was amended December 29, 2017 and effective January 1, 2018. In pertinent part, Rule 213(f) requires parties to disclose, for independent expert witnesses, “the subjects on which the witness will testify and the opinions the party expects to elicit,” and for controlled expert witnesses, “(i) the subject matter on which the witness will testify; (ii) the conclusions and opinions of the witness and the bases therefor; (iii) the qualifications of the witness; and (iv) any reports prepared by the witness about the case.”

The proposed change to this rule would exempt from disclosure all draft expert reports, draft expert disclosures, and communications with the expert except for those related to the fee agreement, billing and payment. This proposed change aims to bring Illinois more in line with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Opponents to the proposed rule argue that the proposed rule change should fail because without enacting the federal rules as a whole, adopting a portion of them does a poor job of balancing privilege with discovery. As Donald P. Eckler, legislative chair of the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, wrote of the proposed rule change, “This proposal would place an obstacle to the search for the truth and harm civil justice in Illinois.”

 

Florida Case Over Whether Expert Required to Corroborate Request for Fees Gains Attention

A dispute over legal fees is gaining attention in Florida as its courts are examining whether attorneys need expert witnesses to corroborate their requests for legal fees.

Underlying Dispute

The case began as a fee dispute between the Law Offices of Granoff & Kessler and its client, Richard Randal Glass. Attorney Roy E. Granoff was attempting to collect fees owed to him under a retainer agreement for his representation of Glass. The parties had an agreement that provided for an initial retainer plus $325 per hour for out-of-court services and $375 per hour for time spent in court. The total amount of the dispute was $34,345.

Granoff sued Glass in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The Miami-Dade Circuit Court ruled that Granoff needed an independent expert to provide testimony to validate his fees. Granoff appealed.

Third District Court of Appeal

On appeal, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed the circuit court’s decision and ruled in favor of Granoff. The court remanded the case back to trial court to enter a judgment in Granoff’s favor. The court also certified a conflict with Florida’s Second District of Appeal’s decision in Snow v. Harlan Bakeries Inc.

Mark Goldstein, attorney for Glass, announced that he plans to ask for a rehearing en banc before all of the judges of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal. Goldstein claims that the appellate court’s decision “gutted a lot of law.”

Goldstein stated, “They essentially held when a lawyer directly sues his client for breach of contract, the rules of requiring a corroborating expert witness don’t apply.”

Granoff disagrees with Goldstein. He notes that his case has an important distinction. He said, “I was seeking it in the separate breach-of-contract action, and the case law holds you do not need an expert witness. Glass owed me attorney fees. I sued him in a separate lawsuit just for the fees he owed me. When I do it that way, I do not need an expert witness corroborating the fees.”

Granoff gave the following example as a comparison, “If there was an architect and he sued for fees, he would not have to bring in another architect to testify to the reasonableness to the fees. If there was a doctor, he wouldn’t have to bring in another doctor. But with lawyers, the law had been they have to bring in another lawyer.”

Granoff argued that this process makes no sense because an attorney would simply “bring an attorney friend of his who is going to testify to say his fees are reasonable.” He cited a Florida Bar Journal article by Robert J. Hauser, Raymond E. Kramer III, and Patricia A. Leonard, “Is Expert Testimony Really Needed in Attorneys’ Fees Litigation?,” where the authors opined that the “practice is cumbersome and unnecessary, and should no longer be required.”

Granoff noted that several attorneys have reached out to him and expressed an interest in representing him on appeal, intending to take this matter all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.

Biking, Race

Lance Armstrong Doping Expert Banned for Doping

An expert on doping who was part of Lance Armstrong’s defense team has been banned from the sport of cycling for four years after testing positive for banned substances.

Expert Witness John Gleaves

John Gleaves is an associate professor of kinesiology at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). Gleaves focuses his research on doping in sport, which he examines from a variety of sociocultural perspectives.

Gleaves was appointed co-director for the International Network for Doping Research from 2012 to 2019. Gleaves is a co-founder and current co-director for CSUF’s Center for Sociocultural Sport and Olympic Research. He also serves as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Olympic Studies. Gleaves co-authored “Doping in Cycling: Interdisciplinary Perspectives” with Bertrand Fincouer and Fabian Ohl, and Practical Philosophy and “History of Sport and Physical Activity” with Scott Kretchmar, Mark Dyreson, and Matthew Llewellyn.

In 2015, Gleaves was an expert witness for Lance Armstrong’s defense during the United States government’s whistleblower lawsuit fraud suit. Gleaves offered testimony about the widespread nature of doping that persisted in the sport at the time that Armstrong was accused of doping.

Armstrong ended up confessing to doping and settling the fraud suit with the federal government for $5 million. As a result of his confession, Armstrong was banned from sanctioned cycling events for life and stripped of all seven of his titles in the Tour de France.

Gleaves’ Doping Ban

In addition to being a kinesiology professor and expert witness, Gleaves is a masters racer on the United States cycling circuit.

On August 31, 2019, Gleaves, 36, gave a urine sample as a participant at the Masters Track National Championships. Gleaves tested positive for oxandrolone metabolites 17α-Hydroxymethyl-17β-methyl-18-nor-2-oxa-5α-androst-13-en-3-one and 17β-Hydroxymethyl-17α-methyl-18-nor-2-oxa-5α-androst-13-en-3-one, as well as clomiphene and its metabolite 4-hydroxyclomiphene.

These substances are prohibited at all times by the USADA Protocol for Olympic and Paralympic Movement Testing, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee National Anti-Doping Policies, and the International Cycling Union Anti-Doping Rules.

As a result of his positive sample, Gleaves accepted a four-year period of ineligibility that began on August 31, 2019. Gleaves has also been disqualified from competitive results obtained on and subsequent to August 31, 2019, including forfeiture of any medals, points and prizes.

Doping Among Seniors on the Rise

While the ban of a doping expert for doping may come as a surprise to some, Gleaves himself has been speaking about the rise of doping among seniors for years.

In June 2015, Gleaves spoke about the rise of doping of seniors at the National Athletic Trainers’ Association convention. Gleaves said that current estimates were that 23 percent to 25 percent of all athletes knowingly use a banned substance at least once during their careers. Gleaves noted that experimentation has increased among masters athletes, or athletes who are 35 and older and compete in things such as distance running and cycling competitions.

Gleaves said:

It’s what no one is talking about now. … In cycling, swimming and track and field we’re seeing illicit use. There are a lot of lawyers, doctors and middle- to upper-middle-class people with disposable income and the social capital to be able to get quasi-legal prescriptions.

Gleaves noted that there was little testing at masters events, so few people were caught. However, the United States Track and Field did begin testing masters athletes over the past few years.

 

Expert Witness

Recommendation That Expert Should Not Be Disqualified From Testifying Against Former Employer

A U.S. district court judge has received a recommendation that he should allow a former employee of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to testify as an expert witness against it, in the agency’s suit against loan financier Navient.

The Underlying Suit

In 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the State of Pennsylvania sued Navient, claiming that the nation’s largest student loan servicer failed to properly service its borrowers’ accounts and improperly directed them toward forbearance, instead of encouraging them to move toward income-based repayment plans. Forbearance is the act of refraining from paying any debts.

The complaint alleges that Navient violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Regulation V of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Navient has vigorously defended against these claims. It called the suit an “unauthorized copycat” of a complaint that CFPB previously filed against it.

The case is before U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Proposed Expert Testimony

Navient proposed to have Xiaoling Ang, Ph.D, testify as one of its expert witnesses at trial. Dr. Ang is an expert in consumer financial services, antitrust, and labor economics. She has experience in class certification and damages analysis, policy evaluation, cost-benefit analysis, and fair lending in a range of industries, including mortgage, student loan, subprime lending, deposit products, and fixed income.

Dr. Ang was the author of an article that was published in Law360 entitled, “Student Loan Repayment Options in Light of CFPB v. Navient.” Navient’s counsel approached Dr. Ang about testifying on Navient’s behalf based on writing this article. Her expert report, which Navient proposed to rebut one of CFPB’s experts, reflects the information contained within her article.

Claim of Conflict of Interest

Dr. Ang has a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University and currently serves as an Associate Director at NERA Economic Consulting. Dr. Ang previously served as an Economist at the CFPB from July 2011 to November 2015. At the CFPB, she served as the Lead Economist on Bureau initiatives and rulemaking, including interagency appraisal rulemaking, larger participant rulemaking in student loan servicing and international money transfers, randomized control trials, disclosure testing, and on a Congressional report on private student loans.

The CFPB objected to Dr. Ang testifying as an expert for Navient, claiming a conflict of interest. The CFPB argued that Dr. Ang should be disqualified from testifying as an expert because she worked for CFPB during its investigation of Navient.

Special Master’s Report

The court asked Special Master Thomas I. Vanaskie to investigate whether Dr. Ang should be disqualified from testifying as an expert at trial. Vanaskie recommended that Dr. Ang should not be disqualified.

Addressing the claimed conflict of interest, Vanaskie wrote, “I have also concluded that Dr. Ang’s sporadic and brief interactions with the Bureau’s Office of Enforcement attorneys over a period of two years did not expose her to confidential information substantially related to the opinions she has offered in her report in this matter such that the Bureau will be prejudiced if she remains an expert witness in this particular case.”

Growing Trend of Using Rap Lyrics as Evidence in Court

An expert on hip-hop culture has noted an uptick in the trend of prosecutors using rap lyrics and videos as evidence of guilt.

The Shooting Death

On December 10, 2016, shots were fired at a “Naughty or Nice Pajama Jam” party being held in the warehouse district of Carson in the Los Angeles area. A 24-year-old partygoer, Davion Gregory, was shot five times. Gregory was brought to the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and pronounced dead on arrival. Two other people were wounded in the shooting: Travis Harvey-Broome and Kwentin Polk.

Investigators found shell casings from a .40-caliber Glock and a .38 revolver at the scene. There was no video footage of the shooting and no one could identify the shooters. L.A. County sheriff detectives Francis Hardiman and Richard Biddle visited Harvey-Broome and Polk at the hospital, who described seeing a “light-skinned black guy with braids or dreads” in the parking lot, vaguely remembering seeing a black Mercedes SUV and red Mustang or Benz.

Approximately one week later, Hardiman heard the name “Drakeo the Ruler” on a wiretap in an unrelated gang case. Detective Hardiman alleges that he spoke to the victim’s family about Drakeo and they told him that they had also heard rumors about Drakeo being involved with the shooting. This led to an investigation into Darrell Caldwell, a rapper who goes by the name, Drakeo The Ruler.

Darrell Caldwell/Drakeo’s Trial

Drakeo was eventually charged with murder, attempted murder, felony gun possession by a felon, and criminal gang conspiracy in connection with the shooting death of a Davion Gregory.

Drakeo was acquitted of all charges of murder and attempted murder and convicted on a charge of felony gun possession by a felon. The jury was hung on the count of criminal street gang conspiracy. The prosecutors’ theory behind this charge is that Drakeo had ordered the shooter to kill a musical rival, “RJ,” but the shooting was botched and Gregory was killed. As evidence, prosecutors cited a line from Drakeo’s song “Flex Freestyle,” in which he raps, “I’m ridin’ round town with a Tommy gun and a Jag / And you can disregard the yelling, RJ tied up in the back.”

Hip-Hop Culture Expert

Drakeo’s defense attorneys called Erik Nielson to testify as an expert witness in Drakeo’s first trial. Nielson is an Associate Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of Richmond. His research is focused on African American literary and musical traditions with an emphasis on hip-hop culture. Nielson has co-authored two books on the topic, The Hip Hop & Obama Reader and Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America. He is also the author of numerous academic articles, chapters, reviews, and feature articles on the topic.

Nielson has estimated that he has been asked to consult on over 60 cases where prosecutors have introduced rap lyrics or videos as evidence of guilt. Nielson also conducted research with University of Georgia law professor Andrea Dennis that reveals over 500 instances of prosecutors using this tactic.

Nielson explained that the role that he plays at criminal trials is correcting prosecutorial mischaracterizations of rap music. He noted that prosecutors “routinely ignore the fact that rap is a form of artistic expression – with stage names, an emphasis on figurative language and hyperbolic rhetoric – and instead present rap as autobiographical.”

Nielson further explained that this practice is effectively asking “jurors to suspend the distinction between author and narrator, reality and fiction, and to read rap lyrics as literal confessions of guilt. No other art form is exploited like this in court. And yet it’s an effective strategy precisely because it taps into stereotypes about rap music and the young men of color who are its primary creators.”

In Nielson’s opinion, introducing rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials can be highly prejudicial because it allows prosecutors “to draw on stereotypes about young black and Latino men as violent, hypersexual and dangerous.”

Drakeo is set to be retried on the criminal gang conspiracy charge. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

 

stock market

Experts Testify at Congressional Hearing About Blockchain Technology

A panel of experts have offered testimony at a United States Congress hearing over the benefits of blockchain technology for small businesses.

Congressional Hearing

The hearing, entitled, “Building Blocks of Change: The Benefits of Blockchain Technology for Small Businesses,” was held before The Committee on Small Business on March 4, 2020. The purpose of the hearing was to give the committee insight into “how innovators and entrepreneurs are using blockchain technology to help small businesses boost productivity, increase security, open new markets, and change the way business is done.”

Blockchain technology utilizes a distributed, decentralized, digital ledger or database that allows multiple parties to engage in secure transactions with each other without the use of an intermediary. Blockchain technology is most commonly associated with cryptocurrency such as bitcoin. However, it has many potential uses, including: monitoring goods in global supply chain, use in retail reward loyalty programs, serving as digital identification, digital voting, and transfers of items like real estate or motor vehicle titles.

Expert Witnesses

The experts who were called to testify before the Committee included: Shane McRann Bigelow, Dawn Dickson, Marvin Ammori, and Jim Harper.

Shane McRann Bigelow is the CEO of Ownum, LLC, a blockchain tech company focused on unlocking business growth and making government more efficient. Bigelow offered testimony on behalf of the Chamber of Digital Commerce. Bigelow testified that his company hoped to use blockchain technology to “Help the poorest in our country, who are also disproportionately minorities, to gain better access to their vital records in a secure way by encouraging federal and state governments to allow for the digitization of not only their vital records, but the process to acquire them.” He emphasized, “Additionally, we will help improve public safety through more accurate data, particularly in the vehicle title arena.”

Dawn Dickson is the CEO of PopCom, a company that uses blockchain technology in “high-IQ automated retail technology” or smart vending machines. Dickson testified, “Blockchain is not a silver bullet. But it can solve problems that small businesses face.” She gave the example that her company believes that the most “secure way to check and confirm a customer’s identity, while ensuring that their personal data remains secure, is to have the customer verify their information securely on their mobile device and store that data on blockchain.”

Marvin Ammori is the General Counsel of Protocol Labs, a research, development, and deployment institution for improving Internet technology. Ammori testified on behalf of the Blockchain Association, a trade association for organizations who are interested in responsibly building and investing in the next generation of digital services. Ammori testified that blockchain technology benefit businesses in many industries, including health care, supply chain, law, and enabling investment and competition in internet infrastructure services such as cloud storage.

Ammori also testified that, “The tax treatment is very complicated” and “doing your taxes for crypto is the worst nightmare.” He explained that doing taxes involving crypto is currently a nightmare and that the system should be reformed before mass adoption. He gave the example, “If you wanted to spend Bitcoin on a coffee this morning, you’d have to keep track of what you paid for the Bitcoin and how much it was worth the moment you spent it, and pay the capital gain or loss on every single transaction.” Ammori also argued for clearer crypto guidelines from both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CTFC).

Jim Harper is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Harper identified “three advantages of blockchain I can identify for small business: First, simple efficiencies may produce lower costs for small businesses. Second, blockchains may allow for diversified and open market structures that support more niches and specialties. Finally, blockchains may reduce the competitive advantage that large businesses have in the world of data.”

 

A judge

Colorado Supreme Court to Weigh in on Experts in Domestic Violence Cases

The Colorado Supreme Court has decided to hear a case to determine whether to permit expert witness testimony in domestic violence trials by experts who are not familiar with the details of the case.

The Domestic Dispute

In the summer of 2013, Kerry Lee Cooper and his partner, L.K., got into an argument over where to place an electric fan. L.K. testified that Cooper shoved her face into the fan’s blades, cutting her, and she retaliated by hitting him. L.K. claims that Cooper then punched her, grabbed her by the jaw, and beat her with a tire iron.

Cooper claimed that L.K. had been the aggressor. According to Cooper, L.K. asked him to reposition the fan. When she was unhappy with the way he had placed it, he threw the fan on the end of the bed. He claims that L.K. hit him with the flashlight and bit his hand when he tried to take the flashlight away from her. Cooper only admitted to pushing L.K. in the forehead.

Cooper’s daughter, who lived nearby, heard screaming and called the police.

The Domestic Violence Expert

At Cooper’s trial, the prosecutors brought in an expert witness to testify about the “characteristics of domestic violence relationships” and the “power and control wheel,” a tool that was developed with the intent to “explain the ways that an abusive partner can use power and control to manipulate a relationship.”

Cooper’s attorneys objected to the testimony, but the court allowed its admission. A jury convicted Cooper of third degree assault and harassment, but acquitted Cooper of related menacing and cruelty to animal charges — Cooper’s dog had entered the room during the incident.

Colorado Court of Appeals

Cooper appealed his conviction. On appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals considered whether the district court erred by admitting a subject matter expert witness who had no familiarity with the facts of the case.

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court had erred by admitting the expert witness. Writing for the court, Judge Michael H. Berger stated that “No evidence presented to the jury proved or even suggested that prior to the charged incident Cooper had assaulted, or physically or nonphysically abused, L.K.” Berger also noted that there was no indication of a cycle of violence or control over L.K.; however, “the expert was permitted to give extensive testimony about how domestic abusers exercise such control”.

In essence, the expert testimony had no factual foundation that made it relevant to the case. Berger wrote that the expert’s testimony “may well have caused the jury to infer that there was a prior history of domestic violence.” The court reversed Cooper’s conviction and ordered a new trial.

Colorado Supreme Court

The prosecution petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court for a Writ of Certiorari.

The Colorado Supreme Court granted the petition, agreeing only to determine the issues of (1) Whether the court of appeals erred in concluding that blind expert testimony on domestic violence was inadmissible because the charged act was the first act of domestic violence in the relationship; (2) Whether the court of appeals erred in concluding that blind expert testimony on domestic violence must be limited to those facets of a subject that are specifically tied to the particular facts of the case; and (3) Whether the court of appeals erred in finding that the admission of the expert testimony was not harmless.

 

Former FBI Director Excluded as Expert Witness

A federal judge has excluded the testimony offered by a former FBI Director in the case of the high-profile Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal.

Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Scandal

Volkswagen installed emissions software on more than 500,000 diesel cars in the United States and about 10.5 million more globally that allowed them to sense when a car is going through an emissions test. When the cars are in test mode, they are fully compliant with the maximum emissions levels that are set by The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But when the cars are driving normally, the cars switch to a different mode that changes fuel pressure, injection timing, exhaust-gas recirculation, and the amount of urea fluid that is sprayed into the exhaust. The “normal driving” mode delivers higher mileage and power; however, it also emits nitrogen-oxide (NOx) at levels that are up to 40 times higher than the federally-allowed limit.

As a result of these findings, Volkswagen was sued by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Justice. Volkswagen was also liable civilly to the customers who had purchased the vehicles with the emissions software installed.

Expert Witness Louis Freeh

In 2016, Volkswagen was in talks to hire former FBI Director Louis Freeh to run its diesel emissions litigation. Freeh’s resume includes stints as a special agent in the FBI, Assistant U.S. Attorney, and United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York. President Bill Clinton appointed Freeh as the 5th Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where he served from 1993 to 2001. He now serves as a lawyer and consultant in the private sector.

Freeh requested a guaranteed $15 million over three years, plus 10% of the “savings the company and its subsidiaries yield and/or the costs saved by settlements.” In the end, VW passed over Freeh for the role.

Freeh, who is founder and chairman of consulting firm Freeh Group International Solutions and senior managing partner of the affiliated law firm Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, is now working for the other side. Freeh was retained as an expert witness for the plaintiffs who opted out of VW’s 2016 civil settlement and chose to sue the company instead.

The Knight Law Group retained Freeh as a plaintiff’s expert witness in the case In Re: Volkswagen “Clean Diesel” Marketing, Sales Practices, and Products Liability Litigation. The Knight Group paid Freeh $50,000 to write a 21-page report and agreed to pay $1,850 per hour for any future work. In his report, Freeh concluded that Volkswagen had gotten off too cheaply in the government’s criminal case against it, which settled for $2.8 billion in 2017. In Freeh’s opinion, the proper fine should have been in the range of $34 billion to $68 billion.

Volkswagen’s defense team filed a motion to disqualify. In its motion, the team argued, “Mr. Freeh’s conflict of interest and receipt of confidential information disqualify him from serving as an expert adverse to defendants.” The motion argued that Freeh had “engaged in extensive privileged and confidential discussions with Volkswagen’s senior-most executives and counsel about the same diesel matters underlying this lawsuit, including discussing key documents and legal strategy.”

While the motion to disqualify was still pending, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of the Northern District of California, held a Daubert hearing on the relevance of Freeh’s opinion. Judge Breyer ruled that the admission of Freeh’s opinion could bog down the trial and would require testimony from the judge who oversaw the criminal case and federal prosecutors. Judge Breyer said that plaintiffs’ counsel could not point to a single case where that type of testimony would be admissible.

Judge Breyer’s ruling effectively mooted the pending motion to disqualify Freeh based on information that was shared with him when he was in the running for the role to run the company’s previous litigation.

Prosecution Undermines Weinstein’s False Memory Witness

The prosecutors in Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial got the defense “false memory” witness to admit she was not an expert in brain regions, potentially undermining the testimony that she offered in Weinstein’s defense.

The Criminal Charges Against Weinstein

In May 2018, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. charged Weinstein with “Rape in the First and Third Degrees, as well as Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree, for forcible sexual acts against two women in 2013 and 2004, respectively.”  In July 2018, the charges were amended to include “one count of criminal sexual act in the first degree and two counts of predatory sexual assault.”

Weinstein pleaded not guilty to all charges.  If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Weinstein is charged with four similar sex crimes in Los Angeles County.  That case is on hold until his New York case is resolved.

The False Memory Witness

Weinstein’s defense team retained Professor Elizabeth Loftus to testify in his defense.  Professor Loftus is a Distinguished Professor of Psychological Science; Criminology, Law and Society; Cognitive Science; and Law at University of California Irvine (UCI).  She has her Ph.D. from Stanford University.

Professor Loftus concentrates her studies on human memory.  According to her UCI faculty profile, Loftus conducts experiments that “reveal how memories can be changed by things that we are told.”

Loftus has worked as an expert witness on numerous high-profile cases, including those of Michael Jackson, the Menendez brothers, and Ted Bundy.

Weinstein’s defense team is arguing that his accusers are misconstruing consensual sexual encounters as assault and rape.  They contend that these accusations are particularly suspect in light of the constant negative media coverage surrounding him.  They retained Loftus to strengthen these arguments.

Under the questioning of Weinstein attorney Diana Fabi Samson, Loftus testified that media exposure can weaken memories.  She said, “it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to know a memory fades over time. … As time is passing and the memory is getting weaker and weaker … it becomes more vulnerable to post-event information.”

Loftus continued, “By exposing a witness to media … post-event information can cause a contamination in memory.”

The Cross-Examination

Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi took the lead on cross-examining Loftus. Illuzzi questioned Loftus as to whether “all memory is wired and retained and retrieved equally?” Illuzzi then brought out a diagram of the brain to question Loftus about it. lluzzi asked Loftus whether the diagram fell within her area of expertise. Loftus replied, “I would defer to the neuroscientists who study the brain.”

Illuzzi pressed further, “Doctor, does that fall within your area of expertise?” Loftus replied, “I know a little bit, but I am not an expert. That’s a more complete answer.”

Justice James Burke, who is presiding over the case, then repeated the question, “Field of expertise?” Loftus replied, “I will say, no.”

Illuzzi also got Professor Loftus to admit that she had previously written a book entitled Witness for the Defense and asked whether her prior testimony that Valuim can impact memory had been tailored to the case.

 

gun and bullets

Forensic Pathologist Disputes Autopsy Results

A forensic pathologist conducted a new autopsy on the body of a woman who was found dead in a vehicle following a chase and police officer-involved shooting. He concluded that the woman was killed by methamphetamine toxicity — not from being shot.

The Chase and Shooting

In December 2017, Toby Mike Holmes was working as a part-time deputy for Grundy County, Tennessee. While on duty, Holmes attempted to stop a Ford Mustang, but the driver failed to stop.  A chase ensued.

A later investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation showed that the driver of the vehicle spun it around so that it was facing Deputy Holmes, at which time he fired at the vehicle. Holmes continued to fire at the vehicle as it sped past him.

The Mustang eventually crashed on the side of the road. A bystander reported the crash. When police responded to the scene, they found that the driver had fled. They also found the lifeless body of Shelby Comer, who was a passenger in the vehicle. She had been shot in the torso.

The driver of the vehicle, Jacky Wayne Bean, 32, was later apprehended. Bean was charged with attempted first-degree murder, evading arrest, and three counts of reckless endangerment. Deputy Toby Mike Holmes was charged with voluntary manslaughter. If convicted, Holmes faces up to six years in prison. Holmes was also placed on unpaid administrative leave and decommissioned by the sheriff’s office pending the outcome of his case.

The Original Autopsy

The original autopsy toxicology report found 3,400 nanograms per milliliter of methamphetamine in Comer’s body. However, it concluded that Comer died because of being shot in the torso.

The New Autopsy

Holmes’ defense team hired Forensic Pathologist Edward A. Reedy, Ph.D., M.D to review the autopsy of Shelby Comer. Dr. Reedy concluded that Comer may have already died before she was shot and disputed the original autopsy’s conclusion that said that Comer died by a gunshot wound to the torso.

Dr. Reedy opined that Comer didn’t lose enough blood for her death to have been caused by a gunshot wound. Dr. Reedy argued that gunshot wounds typically bleed “profusely” when there is enough blood pressure to sustain life. He noted that there was not enough blood found in the interior of the vehicle to indicate that Comer had adequate blood pressure when the shot was inflicted.

Dr. Reedy instead concluded that Comer’s death was caused by the amount of methamphetamine in her system, which was said was “within fatal levels.” Dr. Reedy opined that Comer was likely dead from methamphetamine toxicity before the bullet struck her.

Holmes’ defense team argued that he had not killed Comer; she had died of a methamphetamine overdose. Dr. Reedy testified to support this argument.

Despite Dr. Reedy’s testimony, the jury convicted Holmes of criminally negligent homicide. This was a lesser charge than the original reckless manslaughter charge that he faced. His sentencing hearing has been scheduled for April 3, 2020.