Please update your browser

You're using a version of Internet Explorer that isn't supported by Questia.
To get a better experience, go to one of these sites and get the latest
version of your preferred browser:

From the People Who Brought You the Twinkie Defense; the Rise of the Expert Witness Industry

By Fleetwood, Blake | The Washington Monthly, June 1987 | Go to article overview

From the People Who Brought You the Twinkie Defense; the Rise of the Expert Witness Industry


Fleetwood, Blake, The Washington Monthly


FROM THE PEOPLE WHO BROUGHT YOU THE TWINKIE DEFENSE

In many ways, Dr. Louise Robbins is yourtypical anthropologist. She's earned a teaching post at the University of North Carolina/Greensboro, studied shoulder-to-shoulder in Tanzania with Dr. Mary Leakey, and posed for National Geographic. At 58 she even looks a bit like Margaret Mead.

But what made her a legend in her field wasn'ther study of monkey bones or prehistoric man. It was her work on the witness stand as a highly paid authority on footprints--a skill beloved by district attorneys. "A shoeprint is like a fingerprint,' she once told reporters. For $1,000 a day and up to $9,000 per case, Robbins would help track down murderers from a single footprint. From it, she said she could tell a person's height within an inch as well as his or her weight, sex, and race--not to mention socioeconomic status. She even testified that she could tell whether a person was from northern Europe or from southern Europe. Before an illness kept her off the courtroom circuit, her testimony helped win convictions in more than 20 trials. Newspapers described her as a a female "Quincy.'

There's just one problem. Robbins's "expertise'never resembled science, according to most anthropologists. In February, a national panel of 135 anthropologists and lawyers concluded that Robbins's "shoeprint identification doesn't work.' William Bodziak of the FBI Crime Lab said that Robbins's "wear pattern analysis' is "totally ridiculous,' while Melvin B. Lewis, a John Marshall Law School professor, dismisses her work as "snakeoil.' "She has an incredible imagination. It's nonsense,' said Tim White, professor of anthropology at the University of California/Berkeley. "I was in Africa with Robbins and she said that prehistoric human footprints belonged to an antelope.'

Louise Robbins is just one of the morenotorious members of one of the world's newest professions--the professional expert witness, a calling born out of the union of modern science and high-priced litigation. Across the country, thousands of professional witnesses--academics, physicians, and other specialists--are hired by attorneys just for their written statements and courtroom appearances. They command huge fees testifying on everything from hernia ailments to snowmobile accidents. Several thousand dollars per day is not uncommon. While all the headline trials of recent years--Baby M, John Hinckley, Claus Von Bulow--have centered on expert testimony, so have squabbles worthy of Judge Wopner.

For lawyers and academics, it's a marriage ofconvenience--but a passionate one. Lawyers use expert testimony to drive home a point and win big settlements. And many experts find the oakpaneled courtroom life, with its high fees and real-world importance, to be far more seductive than dusting Tanzanian pottery.

Dial-an-expert

It wasn't always this way. Expert witnesses wereonce a rarity in courtrooms. When academics took the stand, they did so not for a fee, but as spokesmen for their professions. Testifying certainly wasn't a full-time job. A 1923 federal court decision Frye v. U.S. helped limit even those cases by barring outside witnesses who "were not generally accepted by the scientific community.'

As litigation exploded--tedious cases (likeantitrust) became even more complex and once simple conflicts (like child custody) became extended battles--attorneys turned to authorities in universities and professional life, much as government and industry turned to outside consultants. A silver-maned, professorial figure could not only strengthen a case, he or she could save an attorney a lot of time. By renting an expert, a lawyer need not study the intricacies of worn brakes or shady bookkeeping.

These days, lawyers need experts to protecttheir own hides. Not using an expert witness can open a lawyer to being sued for legal malpractice. After losing an $11 billion decision to Pennzoil and falling into bankruptcy, Texaco was criticized for note tapping economists, whose testimony might have limited the judgment to a paltry $700 million or so.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

From the People Who Brought You the Twinkie Defense; the Rise of the Expert Witness Industry
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.