The first published case on Wisconsin’s (relatively) new rule on expert opinion testimony has emerged at long last. In 2011 the legislature replaced Wisconsin’s decade’s-old approach with the federal “Daubert rule,” a rule rejected by state appellate courts on several occasions. The old rule left disagreements among experts mostly to the trier of fact, provided the witnesses had suitable specialized knowledge that could assist in fact finding. The current Daubert rule unctuously anoints trial judges as “gatekeepers” responsible for ensuring that only “reliable” expert opinions are put before juries. Many critics, me included, thought the old rule served the same purpose quite well. In State v. Giese, 2014 WI App 92, the court of appeals wisely signals that the new rule is mostly compatible with the older approach. Continue reading “Daubert Has “Teeth” (and a Pulse)”
An important part of professionalism is, well, participating in the profession. The Law School has a rich record of alumni and faculty involvement in most walks of the profession, including leadership positions in local and state bar associations. Many alumni have also been recognized for their outstanding work as lawyers.
Paul Dacier (Arts ’80; L ’83) is part of this distinguished cohort. In 2013 Paul has garnered well-deserved recognition for his legal work on behalf of EMC Corp., while also serving as the President of the Boston Bar Association (BBA) for 2013-14. Indeed, the Boston Globe reports that Paul is the first general counsel to assume the BBA’s presidency in its over 250 year history.
Paul is general counsel for EMC, a $20 billion, publicly traded corporation with over 60,000 employees and a legal department of over 100 lawyers. EMC is one of the nation’s leading corporations specializing in information storage (“the cloud”) and related technology. Under Paul’s direction, the legal department has successfully defended EMC’s position in high-visibility patent litigation and developed innovative approaches to mergers and acquisitions. The National Law Journal recently named EMC’s legal department as the Boston Legal Department of the year (August 2013).
Last September, the Law School hosted a lecture by the Hon. Fausto Martin De Sanctis, a distinguished federal judge from Brazil. A former fellow at the Federal Judicial Center in Washington D.C. (2012), Judge De Sanctis has spearheaded Brazil’s efforts to crackdown on international and domestic money laundering, among other crimes. In his lecture, Judge De Sanctis described how museum-quality art served as a medium for laundering cash that left only a scant trail for investigators to follow. It is, he said, an international problem that cries for international solutions.
Judge De Sanctis has now published a book on this intricate topic, Money Laundering Through Art: A Criminal Justice Perspective (Springer, 2013).Central to Judge De Sanctis’s argument is the need to lift the secrecy that shrouds many art transactions. While art dealers proclaim the need for confidentiality and the cultivation of a mystique, law enforcement contends that this same secrecy facilitates crime and fraud. The complexities of these crimes, including references to Judge De Sanctis and his (then forthcoming) book, were recently canvassed by the New York Times in a May 2013 story. (See link)
Late last week David Hass, Wisconsin’s Director of Judicial Education, died unexpectedly. For 16 years Dave coordinated an innovative variety of excellent programs that updated judges on important developments while deepening their understanding of core legal principles. Dave was a warm, gracious man who will be missed.
Dave’s passing is an opportunity to reflect briefly on the sharp contrast between continuing education for judges and lawyers. My modest observations are informed by nearly thirty years of teaching to both groups and by my current perspective as chair of the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners, which regulates continuing lawyer education (CLE).
Predictably, the Zimmerman verdict has triggered headlines, sharp controversy, and protests. This was bound to happen regardless of whether he was acquitted or convicted. I leave it for others to tell us about the grand lessons this trial teaches about race, violence, and firearms. I will note, however, that the trial was not about any of these larger themes, and the jury’s verdict spoke only about Zimmerman’s conduct when he shot Trayvon Martin to death. It was not, in short, a show trial of any sort.
The trial’s meaning for me reaches backward and forward in time. It reaches backward to a moment in my professional life when I was on the receiving end of the same verdict as a prosecutor–an acquittal in a highly publicized murder case in which the defendant claimed self-defense. Looking forward its lessons will undoubtedly permeate my One-L Criminal Law class in fall (students are hereby placed on notice). The lesson is not one that dwells on the sensational publicity the Zimmerman trial garnered or the emotional devastation suffered by the Martin family, but rather on its banality as an exemplar of a criminal trial–how it illustrates work-a-day principles relating to the definition of crimes, the elements of defenses, and, most important, the burdens of proof.
Zimmerman’s defense lawyer was quoted as saying “We proved George Zimmerman was not guilty.” Assuming a correct quote, the statement is nonsense on about every level. The defense proved no such thing and was under no duty to do so.
The Zimmerman trial nicely illustrates how messy trials can be. Witnesses contradict one another on most critical issues. For example, a bevy of witnesses have split over whether it was the victim Trayvon Martin or the defendant George Zimmerman screaming for help on the 911 recording. Moreover, the split among witnesses is, predictably, along party lines: friends and relatives of each claim the voice as their own. To make things messier, some of these witnesses seem to have contradicted themselves, asserting earlier that they couldn’t recognize the voice despite their trial testimony that now positively identifies it. Adding to the confusion, some witnesses deny making the earlier inconsistent statements.
So, what’s the jury to make of this morass? The defense solution is to draw a picture – literally. Yesterday the parties sparred over the defense’s attempts to introduce a computer-animated recreation of the fatal struggle between Zimmerman and Martin. Computer-graphic imaging (CGI) technology is being used more and more to recreate events in a myriad of cases. A week of conflicting testimony may be reduced to a 60-second cartoon.
There are two problems here. First, the accuracy (authentication) of a CGI recreation depends on its fidelity to the historical record: does it accurately reflect what occurred? Hard to say in this case. Martin is dead. Zimmerman has not testified. The CGI recreation rests on the creators’ reconstruction of events based on conflicting pretrial statements, including Zimmerman’s, some of which have been contradicted by trial testimony, itself no model of clarity.
Put differently, the CGI recreation is the animators’ version of the shooting, resting heavily on the defense version of events. It is tantamount to Zimmerman’s story of what occurred with one crucial difference: Zimmerman does not have to take the stand and face cross-examination under oath about any of it. My own view is that it should be excluded unless Zimmerman takes the stand and testifies that it “fairly and accurately” depicts what happened.
The Zimmerman homicide trial in Florida is an important bellwether on many levels. My colleague David Papke has already remarked on the jury’s composition and its possible effect on the outcome. The evidence too is controversial and contested. The notorious 911 call recording is deemed critical, yet the trial judge excluded expert testimony on voice identification as unreliable. Her ruling rippled across the country and may even hold lessons here in Wisconsin.
The 911 call recorded a man’s voice “screaming” for help. The screamer’s identity is disputed. George Zimmerman has claimed self-defense. Prosecution experts asserted, however, that the plea came from the victim, Trayvon Martin, moments before he was shot dead. A bevy of defense witnesses, including specialists with the FBI and the NSA, attacked the methods used by the State’s experts.
On October 4 and 5, 2012, the Law School held its Conference on America’s First National Crime Commission and the Federalization of Law Enforcement. The conference was the brain child of Dean Strang, a member of our adjunct faculty, who was assisted in its planning by Professor Michael O’Hear and me. Attracting large audiences of academics, lawyers, students, and the public, the conference featured lectures by historians, law professors, political scientists, and criminal justice experts.
The conference began with Professor Frank Zimring’s (Berkeley, Law) lecture, “The Accident Crime Commission: Its Legacies and Lessons,” which was delivered under the auspices of the Law School’s Barrock lecture in criminal law. Professor Zimring provided historical insight into the composition, work, and legacy of the so-called Wickersham Commission. His lecture is summarized here.
On October 5 the conference continued with three panels. The first panel provided additional historical perspective on the Wickersham Commission. Delivering papers were James Calder (Texas-San Antonio, Political Science), who placed the Commission’s work in a paradigm of “brain” and “state.” Samuel Walker (Nebraska-Omaha, Criminology) provided an overview of President Herbert Hoover’s life, emphasizing how his support for the Commission was fully consistent with his role as an early twentieth-century Progressive. John M. Cooper, Jr., (Wisconsin, History) commented on the papers while offering additional insights into President Hoover’s progressivism.
On October 4, 2012 Professor Franklin E. Zimring delivered the Annual George and Margaret Barrock Lecture on Criminal Law to a large audience of interested public, law students, faculty, and members of the legal profession. Professor Zimring is the William G. Simon Professor of Law and Wolfen Distinguished Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.
His subject was the origins and legacies of the so-called Wickersham Commission of 1929-1931. Since the Commission’s work is largely forgotten today, Professor Zimring assumed the burden of explaining how “this hopeless venture ended up being viewed as a precedent setting and positive contribution to the ways in which the national government learns about crime and criminal justice.” In this he succeeded, his remarks serving as a timely, thoughtful introduction to the Law School’s day-long conference on the Wickersham Commission that was held on October 5, 2012. (More on the conference in my next blog.)
Crime often pays, and sometimes pays very well. Both the drug dealer with a pile of cash in the basement and the insider trader with a huge portfolio in an off-shore account face a common problem: How to use the cash without being targeted by law enforcement or tax collectors. The solution is “money laundering,” a banal phrase that accurately conveys how illegitimate wealth is cleaned and pressed to appear lawful – and hence useable.
On September 5, 2012 the Law School hosted a packed lecture, “Money Laundering Perfected by Art,” presented by the Hon. Fausto Martin De Sanctis, a leading federal judge from Brazil, and Karine Moreno-Taxman, an assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Currently a fellow at the Federal Judicial Center in Washington D.C., Judge De Sanctis has been in the forefront of Brazil’s efforts to crackdown on international and domestic money laundering. Judge De Sanctis described the myriad forms that money laundering can assume, especially through the use of museum-quality art. Paintings and sculptures, for example, leave no money trails. Art dealers jealously guard the confidentiality of their patrons, which only facilitates stealth transactions. Judge De Sanctis talked about the legal battles involving Jean Michel Basquiat’s “Hannibal” (see image), an $8 million painting smuggled from Brazil to the U.S. by persons implicated in the Banco Santos financial scandal (Brazil’s answer to Bernie Madoff).
Attorney Moreno-Taxman, who translated for Judge De Sanctis, also talked about gaps in domestic (U.S.) and international law which make these crimes hard to detect and complicate the recovery of tainted art, like “Hannibal.” An interesting subtheme was Brazil’s efforts to implement the rule of law since 1988, when it abandoned its military dictatorship and adopted a written constitution.
The Supreme Court continues to refurnish the modern courtroom with eighteenth-century antiques. Without the slightest glint of irony, or even humor, the Court assessed the admissibility of twenty-first century scientific evidence using legal doctrine crafted on parchment with quill pens in an age when mirrors were placed to direct sunlight into the face of the accused at trial. (Why the mirrors at a time when the accused could not testify in his defense anyway? That’s another story.)
In its June 23, 2011 decision in Bullcoming v. New Mexico http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-10876.pdf the Supreme Court once again addressed the admissibility against the accused of lab reports prepared by analysts who do not testify at trial. The report was offered through a “surrogate witness.” Bullcoming was charged with drunken driving. A blood test pegged his BAC at 0.21, “an inordinately high level,” as the Court helpfully observed. At trial, however, the State did not call as a witness “Caylor,” the lab analyst who measured the BAC. Caylor, it seems, was enjoying an “unpaid leave for a reason not revealed” – always an intriguing “uh oh” when assessing credibility. Instead, the State called another lab “scientist” who had not observed Caylor’s testing of Bullcoming’s sample but who could talk about lab procedures and the reliability of the report in general. The Court tells us that a “startled defense counsel” objected. (N.B. How the Court knew she was “startled” is unclear, but it is abundantly clear that the confrontation right requires only a timely objection by counsel, startled or unstartled.) Continue reading “Bullcoming Arrives, But Where’s the Path?”
In late January the “tort reform” package imposed the staid Daubert rules on the Wisconsin Rules of Evidence. Now it’s spring, although the weather feels a lot like January, and we must get serious about what to do with this gift that the judiciary did not want. The new rules require that expert testimony be based on demonstrably reliable methods and principles. To be determined is whether Wisconsin will be a “strict” or a “lax” Daubert jurisdiction — whatever that is. It is worth noting that the first wave of Wisconsin Daubert cases, which will likely set the mold for what follows, are also those that least interested the tort reformers, namely, criminal cases and “chapter 980” sexually violent offender cases.
Right now, however, we are in a state of nature, legally speaking. Case law under the relevancy test, the current standard, is of little avail. And while the new rules are copied from the federal rules, state courts are not bound by federal precedent (yes, that includes Daubert itself!). Last week alone I spoke at two conferences, one a large, attentive gathering of state judges in Elkhart Lake and the other an even larger, equally engaged joint convocation of state prosecutors, public defenders, and private defense counsel here at Eckstein Hall. There is a clamor for answers and a discernable unease about what to do. Continue reading “Springtime for Daubert: Insights From the EDWBA Panel”