Monday, September 12, 2011

Expert Witnesses in the Vermont Yankee Trial

Brattleboro and Vigils

Today, the Entergy vs. Shumlin-and-Vermont lawsuit begins in Brattleboro. As this post is published, I will be down in Brattleboro, participating in a rally in support of nuclear energy and Vermont Yankee. Opponents will also be there. Here's a link to an article by Olga Peters about the lawsuit and various plans for other events. I am one of the nuclear supporters described as planning the "counter-vigil"on September 12. In my press release, I called it a rally, not a vigil. But what the heck. At least we were mentioned!

Expert Witnesses

There has been a fair amount of legal maneuvering before the trial. One issue has been the qualification of expert witnesses. This article (originally in the Brattleboro Reformer) describes Entergy attempting to disqualify three of the state's expert witnesses, and the state's answer to Entergy.

The three witnesses that Entergy wanted to disqualify are Bruce Hinkley, Peter Bradford, and William Steinhurst. Here's a link to Hinkley's declarations about the preliminary injunction. I cannot find any similar filings by Bradford or Steinhurst on the Attorney General's website. Peter Bradford is a professor at Vermont Law School, and William Steinhurst is a consultant in energy regulation.

Why the Challenge?

I am not a lawyer, so I asked a couple of lawyers why Entergy was challenging these witnesses. These are the answers I got:
  • Challenging expert witnesses before the trial is pretty standard stuff. As a matter of fact, it's called the Daubert standard.
  • Well, it sounds like some of these guys are experts in law. The judge gets to decide the law. Judges don't allow "expert witnesses" to get involved in the judge's area of expertise! Lawyers, the legal team, argue legal matters before the judge. Expert witnesses don't testify about legal interpretations.
Actually, these are the translations (into English) of the answers I got. My translations may be wrong. In which case, it is nobody's fault but my own.

That's why they pay real lawyers the big bucks.

And the Judge Rules

Judge Murtha has already ruled on this matter, and you can see his direct ruling here. It is clear and simple and less than two pages. (Every now and again, I have hopes of understanding this stuff!) The ruling basically says that Judge Murtha will let them testify, but they better not testify about the law.

To aid the parties in conducting expert depositions, however, the Court notes it will not consider expert testimony on purely legal issues and does not expect to hear such testimony at trial. Ultimate legal issues are matters that counsel can and should argue to the Court -- such matters do not require the imprimatur of an “expert.” Opining that state laws are not preempted is a legal conclusion and not helpful to the Court...The Court will hear testimony based on personal knowledge, experience in the nuclear industry, and research of legislative history but, as noted, the Court will not hear or rely upon opinions on ultimate legal issues to be determined by the Court.

A Different View

For a more light-hearted view of qualifying an expert witness, I include this two-minute clip from the movie My Cousin Vinny.

1 comment:

Atomikrabbit said...

Marisa Tomei won the Oscar, but I think there should be a special linguistic award for Joe Pesci’s concern for “da yut”.

I also think I’m beginning to like Judge Murtha’s erudite stylings.

Keep up the good fight Meredith…