February 11th, 2015 by Rebekah Smith
I taught at the National Judicial College in sunny Miami, Florida two weeks ago and the weather was so gorgeous that I almost did not come back to Central Ohio. An attorney I work with said to me (disgustedly) you never tell me you are teaching somewhere like Des Moines (no disrespect to Des Moines but it’s no Miami in January)- it’s always Miami, Vail, Bermuda…So he decided that rather than Miami, he was going to tell himself I was in Illinois to feel better about the Ohio weather. But I digress.
As part of a team of forensic accountants from the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts, I was honored to be invited to present economic damages and business valuation at the NJC’s Complex Commercial Litigation Training. This is the 4th time I’ve presented to a group of judges; each time, I benefitted greatly from hearing the judges’ view of my profession.
The first day our presentation includes an hour on expert witnesses and our “view” from the stand followed by a panel discussion. The second day includes the technical aspects of lost profit calculations and business valuations and what the judges, as triers of fact, should know. No matter the group of judges, they are always incredibly engaged and there are always some very spirited debates amongst the judges as each court handles certain things a little differently.
This time, the panel discussion resulted in a very interesting dialogue about how judges can help experts insure the jury gets the right information and is not misled. What was most interesting during the discussion were the differences amongst the judges about if and to what extent judges (and juries, too) should ask questions of the testifying expert.
I have been involved in cases where both the judge and the jurors asked questions of the witness and found it to be a very interesting process. What the judges observed, as I have, is that when given the opportunity, jurors generally ask fairly insightful questions or for clarification of something the witness explained poorly. I have enjoyed the cases where the judge and jurors ask questions because it allows me to provide the information they need to do their jobs.
Do you think this is it appropriate and helpful for the judge or jurors to be able to ask questions? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.