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Public Interest Concerns of Disqualifying an Expert Witness

Some high profile or special interest cases expose concerns over disqualifying an expert witness based on various aspects of the professional and the circumstances of the case. There are some claims where the professional has a conflict of interest that may cause disqualification even in light of public interest concerns with the expert witness.

Public interest in a court case is not uncommon when the subject matter deals with criminal concerns and a defendant is a high-profile
person that engaged in horrific acts or is accused of similarly devastating behavior. In many of these cases, an expert witness may need to remove confusion about the subject matter or something with the evidence that the judge or jury may not clearly understand without the professional. Even if the expert has a conflict of interest, he or she may not usually face disqualification unless the issue is with confidentiality that breaches all standards or protocol.

Disqualification of the Expert Witness

Most professionals hired for a court case will need to pass the initial steps in qualifying as a designated expert witness for the specific case by answering questions the judge or opposing legal counsel will pose.
The lawyer that hired the professional may not fully understand the subject matter or if the expert has the necessary credentials when he or she does not have the time to properly interview the professional to discover these issues at the beginning. However, in the first interview, the expert may face disqualification if he or she does not have the needed relevant field of study either in experience or education or cannot reliably test evidence with various methods.

Conflict of Interest

Some cases involve a conflict of interest with a lawyer where he or she may need to remove from the case. Other professionals have similar problems where they have information about the other legal team, may know what strategy or path the lawyer will take or have an interest in the opposing side. In public interest cases where the community has a vested interest in the outcome of the case, the judge may still want to consider leaving the expert in the case unless the conflict is severe and could lead to a mistrial. The greater the impact of the proceedings, the more likely the expert may face disqualification.

Communication with the Opposing Legal Team

Some experts have a working relationship with many different lawyers. Communicating about various issues with the opposing legal team may not normally cause a conflict of interest or a breach in confidential matters, but there are certain circumstances where the expert may face disqualification for the communication when the legal professional and the expert speak about the case or any details connected to the subject matter. Some situations could lead to the disqualification of the lawyer for involvement in these events. Some disqualifications occur when the expert was working for the opposite side and then switched with prior knowledge connected to the case.

The Burden of Proof

Another reason that the judge may have an unwillingness to disqualify the expert is that the burden of proof is on the opposing legal team to disclose and expose a conflict of interest. When the professional hired for the case encounters public interest concerns, the judge may remain unwilling to disqualify him or her when the community wants to see the expert in action. The opposing legal team may not have a sufficient argument to remove the professional from the case. Generally, the argument must have severe concerns with confidentiality or the conflict of interest would provide a serious advantage over the other legal team from knowledge or experience.

With the burden of proof, the other legal team may not fully understand how to remove the expert. Proving that there is a conflict of interest is not always enough to explain that the judge should disqualify the expert for the case. If a breach in protocol or confidentiality exists, the judge may have no other choice. Publicity and a widespread interest in the case generally prevent severe action by either the judge or the opposing legal team.

The Expert in Public Interest Concerns

The expert witness in public interest cases may have the charm and demeanor to capture the attention and interest of the public. He or she may hold the awe of the community and become part of the case without worry for disqualification. Then, it is up to him or her to explain the subject matter appropriately.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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