Ethics Expert Witnesses May Not Question the Integrity of Opposing Experts Without Relevant Training

    Court: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division
    Jurisdiction: Federal
    Case Name: Obrycka v. City of Chicago
    Citation: 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128201

    Facts

    The plaintiff brought this suit against the defendant city and its employee police officer for alleged constitutional rights violations. In particular, the plaintiff claimed that the city’s policies deprived her of her Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process liberty interest in bodily integrity. See Monell v. Department of Soc. Servs. of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978).

    The plaintiff retained a statistician expert witness to establish her Monell claim that the city had a widespread practice of interfering with police misconduct investigations. The defendants retained an ethics expert witness to rebut the plaintiff’s statistician expert witness, parts of which were challenged by the plaintiff in her Daubert motions.

    The Ethics Expert Witness

    The defendants retained the expert witness to offer testimony on the lack of scientific validity in the study conducted by the plaintiff’s expert witness.

    The defendants’ expert witness held a Ph.D., a master’s degree, and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. At the time of the case, the expert worked as an assistant professor for the Department of Criminal Justice at Seattle University. The expert had experience teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics, statistics, criminology, forensics, research methods, and crime mapping.

    Prior to joining the faculty at Seattle University, the expert worked as a statistician for the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the Department of Justice of the United States. The expert conducted extensive research in criminology and statistics, published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals, and co-authored multiple books on ethics. In addition, he presented his articles, research, and statistical analysis at various conferences, as well as numerous reports and statistical studies on the ethics of law enforcement.

    The defendant’s ethics expert claimed that the paper on which the plaintiff’s expert statistician relied “would not have survived a peer-reviewed examination in any respectable academic journal in the fields of criminology and criminal justice.” The ethics expert was also shocked that the plaintiff’s statistician expert continued with his research on the basis of the data provided by the lawyer and that the ethical approach would have been to reject the study because the data alone did not justify the analysis.

    In her Daubert motion, the plaintiff sought to exclude the ethics expert’s opinions as inflammatory and baseless. The plaintiff claimed that the expert’s memo and the article on which the plaintiff’s statistician expert relied were examples of junk science. Furthermore, the plaintiff contended that this junk science promoted plausible ideas under the veil of scientific analysis to confuse and take advantage of the jurors.

    Discussion

    The court noted that there was a lack of a credible basis for the ethics expert’s opinion on the plaintiff’s statistician expert report and the article on which the plaintiff’s statistician expert relied constituted junk science.

    In forming that opinion, the ethics expert had relied on a book written for a general readership and not academia. The court, therefore, granted this element of the petition by the plaintiff’s Daubert motion. The court observed that based on his own experience of writing articles for scientific journals, as well as performing peer-reviews for scientific journals, he was qualified to say that the plaintiff’s expert had relied on an article that would not have passed the peer-review process. The court, therefore, denied this motion. Nevertheless, his opinion that the journal the plaintiff’s expert had relied on was not “a decent academic journal” was excluded as it was held to merely be an unfounded subjective belief.

    Finally, the court noted that the ethics expert’s opinion that the plaintiff’s statistician expert’s ethical approach would have been to deny counsel’s demand to be the plaintiff’s statistical expert was inadmissible. The expert was not trained as an expert in the ethics and integrity of statisticians. Rather, his area of ethics practice was in the scope of the integrity of the police. Therefore this aspect of the plaintiff’s motion was granted.

    Held

    The defendant’s Daubert motion was granted in part and denied in part.