Springtime for Daubert: Insights From the EDWBA Panel

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.

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More “Bullcoming”? The Court Courts Confusion in Confrontation

In some ways I should be grateful for doctrinal train wrecks. Messy case law provides endless excuses for writing articles and blog posts as well as delivering lectures that purport to see “the way” through the swamp. Like a child’s kaleidoscope, such cases offer something different for everyone to see, and no one is clearly wrong. Yet Supreme Court opinions are not solely intended for the entertainment of academics or the bewilderment of law students and lawyers.

Of the three metaphors I used in the preceding paragraph, a “train wreck” is the most apt way to describe Michigan v. Bryant, the Supreme Court’s latest attempt to illuminate the interrelationship between the hearsay rules of evidence and the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation right. “Swamp” and “kaleidoscope” are apt, but “train wreck” best captures the real cost of confusion. Bryant not only failed to illuminate a much-rumored “dying declaration” exception to the confrontation right, it also raises considerable confusion about what constitutes the “testimonial hearsay” that is protected by the confrontation right in the first place. For the defense lawyers and prosecutors who must eat this mush (fourth metaphor) every day, you have my best wishes and these words of solace.

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Tort Reform 2011: True Science or Pure Mischief?

Well, that didn’t take long.  In its first week of political life, the new legislature has proposed sweeping “tort reform” legislation.  The compass of the 30-plus page bill is manifold, embracing punitive damages, fee shifting, product liability claims, and damages caps.  What interests me more, however, are proposed changes to the Wisconsin Rules of Evidence governing expert opinion testimony.  For years, some have bemoaned Wisconsin’s failure to adopt the so-called Daubert rule (see below), an often restrictive, ad hoc standard that ostensibly identifies those “reliable” expert methodologies worthy of consideration by the courts.  Unreliable methods, of course, are excluded.  And while courts and commentators still debate how one goes about reliably identifying reliable methodologies, Wisconsin will apparently make up for lost time by not only adopting Daubert, but also go it one better by requiring that expert methodologies be “true” as well as reliable.

True in what sense you ask?  Well, it’s unclear, although I concede it has a nice Old Testament ring to it and the idea that courts should use “true” evidence is appealing in all senses of that word.  While you’re pondering what “true” might mean (and I still am), let me offer some background.

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