Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Life on the stand

The most recent issue of TIP (The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist) has an article written by the always-entertaining Frank Landy. Dr. Landy frequently provides testimony in cases of employment discrimination and in this article gives us a peak into a day into the life of an expert witness.

For example, in the very first case he was retained for as an expert witness (race discrimination in fire fighter promotions), the chief lawyer for the other side (a U.S. attorney) followed him into the bathroom and whispered that he would destroy Frank's career. Frank, being the card that he is, asked the attorney which career and told him his wife would buy him flowers or candies to destroy one, preferably two or three of his careers.

In the same case, it turned out that there were some errors made in data input/analysis, and even though they represented approximately .01% of the data, the other side claimed that Dr. Landy had done it intentionally and it was unethical, illegal, disrespectful, etc.

Sounds like fun, huh?

How about this exchange between a defense attorney (DA) and Dr. Landy (DL), who was providing testimony regarding the effect of stress on driver behavior:

DA: Dr. Landy, I have examined you (sic) resume and it's really impressive. Let me see if I have this right. You went directly from college to graduate school, right?
DL: Right.

DA: And then you were in graduate school for 5 years, right?
DL: Right.

DA: And then you obtained a position at Penn State and rose to the level of professor, right?
DL: Right.

DA: And you have written books, and taught classes, and done research and published papers, right?
DL: Right. (I'm feeling pretty good by now!)

DA: Well here's my question Dr. Landy: Have you actually had a real job since high school?
DL: Excuse me?

DA: What part of that didn't you understand Dr. Landy?
Well, I guess the word "real."

DA: You don't know what I mean by a real job?
Not exactly.

DA: Let me make it simple for you. Have you worked at any job since high school where you actually got dirt on your hands?
(Pregnant pause by me.)

DA: Dr. Landy?
(Smile by me.)

DA: Dr. Landy?
Actually, when you define it that way, No, I haven't had a job where I got my hands dirty.

Now here would be one of my cross-examination questions for their witness:

Dr. X, what relationship is there between getting one's hands dirty and knowledge of the effect of stress on driving behavior?

Still, a fascinating window into what it can be like on the stand. If this seems as unpleasant to you as it does to me, let's use it as another reason to avoid discrimination claims at all costs. If you don't find this unpleasant, well....have you considered a career as an attorney?

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