Of Newbie and Rock-Star Witnesses


As I mentioned earlier, when we went to trial, my two key witnesses had never testified in court before. That’s an extremely risky situation for a plaintiff’s lawyer.

 

In this case, my first witness was the plaintiff herself, who was exposed to the chemical. The only witness to this exposure was her infant daughter, who couldn’t testify because she was too young to remember what happened and had nothing to say that would add value to the case.

 

My second key witness was my lynchpin expert, Dr. Vyvyan Howard, who spoke about toxicology and pathology. To prepare for trial, I had to work repeatedly with both witnesses, because it’s extremely common for first-timers to get tense and freeze up.

 

Even a seasoned professional witness might have been nervous under the circumstances in that courtroom. A witness must still perform, however, or there’s a price to pay. No matter how much practice one puts in prior to trial, one’s testimony on game day is the only thing that truly counts.

 

Unlike the so-called wind-drift expert I had just taken to school on the stand and the two novices I had prepared as witnesses for our side, there were some witnesses who, by virtue of experience, were considered rock-star witnesses.

 

DuPont had brought in one such superstar expert, Dr. Robert Brent, the self-proclaimed “King of Teratology” whom I mentioned earlier. To this day, Dr. Brent is one of the finest expert witnesses I have ever cross-examined. He had been giving expert witness testimony for 40 years—longer than I had been alive at the time. He had given testimony in at least 40 trials and given hundreds of depositions between the time he first took the stand and our case.

 

Dr. Brent was good—really good. He was smooth and unflappable, and came across as very knowledgeable. As their key expert witness, Dr. Brent could have been the guy who won the case for DuPont if I hadn’t stopped him.

 

Dr. Brent was a full-time member of Alfred I. duPont Institute (at the Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware) and the Jefferson Medical College (now known as the Sidney Kimmel Medical College) of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

 

It’s important to note that the DuPont Institute has no relation to the DuPont company, except that in 1916 Alfred I. duPont left the DuPont company after shareholders voted to remove him from the board of directors.

 

Upon Alfred’s death in 1935, the Alfred I. duPont Testamentary Trust was created, with the Nemours Foundation (created in 1936) as sole beneficiary. Foundation funds were used in 1940 to establish the Alfred I. duPont Institute and the Hospital for Children.

 

The relationship between Dr. Brent and the hospital was formed in the late 1980s when the dean of the medical school came to him with the news that his research center was to be destroyed to make room for an eleven-story building the college was planning to put on the same grounds.

 

While Dr. Brent searched for a new location to house his laboratories, the dean suggested he move his lab and all of his researchers to a new facility constructed in the old children’s hospital and create an educational program for residents and medical students.

 

I wanted to give you this background on this expert witness, so you have an idea of how solid he was.

 

In my next post, I will talk a bit more about Dr. Brent, as I prepared to cross-examine him.

 

You’ll find much more about the witnesses in 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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