Monday, January 25, 2010

Prop8 on trial: When is an "expert" not an "Expert"?

Monday update Two big things in the Prop8 trial today. First, the plaintiffs (=good guys) got several videos and documents into evidence about the views of the proponents. As reported in the NY TImes, one of these laid out the outrageous claims of equality opponents:
The video presentations included footage from “simulcasts” to church groups, in which pastors say that gay marriage would lead to the legalization of polygamy, marriage with children and bestiality.

“If Proposition 8 doesn’t pass we will see a domino effect and the social re-engineering of marriage will have a profound implication for every one of our lives,” said a man in the footage, in what appeared to be a live interview. He compared the potential failure of Prop 8 to the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks in New York, saying, “After 9/11 the world was a fundamentally different place.”

A woman added: “If sexual attraction was the basis for the definition of marriage then pedophiles would have to be allowed to marry 6-, 7-, 8-year olds. Then a man could marry a horse. Mothers and sons. Sisters and brothers.”
The purpose of entering these simulcasts as evidence is part of the plaintiff lawyers’ attempt to show that Proposition 8 violated the constitution because it was motivated by prejudice and resulted in discrimination against a politically vulnerable group.

When Christopher Dean Dusseault, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, tried to link the simulcasts with, the official campaign behind Proposition 8, Nicole Moss, a lawyer with the defense, acknowledged that the simulcasts were paid for by, but objected that they were relevant to the case.
Bias, much?

Then, Prof Kenneth Miller, of Claremont McKenna College, stepped forward today as an expert witness for the proponents of Prop8, especially on the initiative process. HIs purpose was to show that the GLBT community actually DOES have power, but, it didn't go so well. Apparently in his deposition, he showed a few gaps in his knowledge. In his testimony, he admtted the Prop8 attorney gave him documents to ... well, cram.

From the Prop8TrialTracker, an exchange with our attorney David Boies about initiatives and re-writing them:
M: In California, there is no opportunity to amend unless they pull it back.

B: How often has that happened in California?

M: Not infrequently.

B: When was last time?

M: I guess.

B: I’m not asking you to guess. I’m asking you to tell me the last time.

M: Many times it’s pulled back.

B: When was last time in CA that signatures were gathered and then proponents pulled back to make compromise?

M: Discussed in 2005 special, but did not happen.

B: Give me last time in California?

M: I can give you example in Colorado.

B: We’re talking about Ca. You wanted to talk about CA.
That's your expert on the intiiative pocess.

As the NY Times put it,
At one point, midway through an intensifying series of questions from Mr. Boies, Mr. Thompson, the defense lawyer, stood up to object that the questions had strayed beyond the scope of Dr. Miller’s expertise.
To the loudest laughter of the afternoon and a chuckle from Judge Walker, Mr. Boies responded wryly, “I think there is some merit to that objection.”
Prop8 trial trackergoes on,
But it really goes further than that. When an attorney puts on an “expert” who has so little background in the subject area, it tells the Court that this is a) the best they could find and b) probably the level of all of their witnesses. A bad expert can taint the whole case, the reputation of the attorneys, and the odds of winning. Combining the fact that they could only find two expert witnesses, the fact that this one did so poorly, and the fact that cross-examination did little to touch the plaintiff’s experts, the defense has a bit of work ahead of them.
Oh, I hope so!

No comments: