A Renowned Expert Takes the Stand


I called Dr. Vyvyan Howard to the stand on May 22, three weeks into the Castillo-DuPont trial. By this point, the jury had heard a lot of evidence that I hoped had already convinced them to hold DuPont and Pine Island Farms responsible for Johnny Castillo’s birth defect as a result of Donna’s exposure to Benlate.

 

My goal with Dr. Howard was to seal the deal. After the testimony of my other expert witnesses before him, I needed Dr. Howard to leave no room for doubt in the jurors’ minds.

 

DuPont’s contention from the very start of the trial was that Dr. Howard was not qualified to be an expert witness. But then again, the company made that same claim about Dr. Stadler—its own corporate representative.

 

I slowly introduced Dr. Howard to the court and the jury by going through his impressive résumé with them. DuPont’s lead lawyer in the case, Clem Glynn, objected.

 

Apparently, the résumé I was using was an updated version of the one that had been submitted into evidence when I had added Dr. Howard to my list of witnesses several months earlier. Judge Donner reviewed the new résumé, which was 12 pages longer.

 

The reality is, the court can’t stop a witness from updating his or her résumé—but to be fair, the judge wanted clarity regarding the differences between the two documents. The new version noted additional research grants and lecture appearances. It also included some narrative that had not been on Dr. Howard’s previous résumé, which made the new one more impressive. At the court’s request, before I could continue, I had to ask the witness to state for the record how the two résumés were different.

 

Dr. Howard explained that at his last deposition, he had been asked to produce a more current résumé which, given his busy schedule, was difficult to keep updated, so he had added to it sporadically since then. The new résumé was simply more detailed and current. This formality took well over an hour and proved to be completely fruitless for the defendants.

 

If anything, it showed that Dr. Howard was even more qualified to be sitting in that courtroom.

 

Once we were able to get back to the matter at hand, I began to take Dr. Howard into the subject of teratology. This, of course, was where the defense lawyer Clem Glynn felt Dr. Howard had no proper training.

 

“Dr. Howard, what does ‘teratology’ mean?” I asked.

 

“Well, strictly, it comes from the Greek word meaning the study of monstrosities or monsters.”

 

“And how does that relate to the practice of medicine today?”

 

“Well, different groups of medical practitioners and, indeed, scientists are interested in malformations, and they can all practice teratology. So geneticists, developmental pathologists, scientists working in toxicology with animals can all study teratology, which is really showing an interest in developing creatures or fetuses.”

 

“Does it study birth defects?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Doctor, is that what you spend some of your time doing as a developmental toxicologist and pathologist?”

 

“Yes, I spend a considerable amount of my time doing that. About 90% of my time.”

 

“Doctor, have you been asked to consider the evidence in this case and form an opinion as to the cause of microphthalmia in the plaintiff, John Castillo?”

 

“Yes, I have. It is my opinion that, within a reasonable degree of medical and scientific probability, the case of microphthalmia in John Castillo was caused by his mother’s exposure to benomyl during a critical stage in the development of his eyes.”

 

In my next blog, I will continue my recounting of Dr. Howard’s testimony.

 

You’ll find much more about the Castillo-DuPont trial, as well as information on my background and my thoughts on aspects of the judicial process, in my book, Blindsided.

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