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Mission Possible: Investigating the Background of an Expert Witness

This article has been archived and may no longer be updated.


Genie Tyburski, Web Manager, The Virtual Chase


   Originally published by Law Office Computing (Apr/May 2002) under the title, "Load Up on Ammunition." Revised to reflect resources and strategies current as of the date appearing at the end of the page.


17 July 2002. Associate M, who began representing local school districts when a partner became ill (Have Library, Will Travel, Apr/May 2001), marches down the hallway in search of Lawyer X. She seeks help in learning more about an opposing party's expert witness in a matter currently pending in federal court. She also wants to verify the expert's credentials.

She stops outside Lawyer X's office but finds it empty. Not easily discouraged, M dashes over to the utility room expecting to discover X at the photocopy machine. But aside from a Westlaw printer that rhythmically churns out paper on to a pile already two inches thick, the room shows no activity.

Leaving it, M hastens down another hallway searching nearby offices. Behind her, unseen, Lawyer X strolls toward his office.

A short while later, a determined M retraces her steps. She peeks again inside his office. Empty!

"Looking for me?" X asks, coming up behind her.

M whirls around. X grins. He remembers similar encounters with himself on the receiving end of M's quiet approach.

In mock innocence he asks, "Did I startle you?"

M feigns displeasure. "Cute, X." Then she adds unnecessarily, "I've been looking for you."

"Well, never let it be said that I stood in the way of a fellow lawyer on a mission," X jests. Then turning serious, he asks, "What's up?"

M tells Lawyer X about receiving the name of plaintiff's expert in a special education matter. She wants to learn more about the psychologist, whose curriculum vitae indicates a doctorate in educational and school psychology as well as a variety of licenses. M wants to verify these credentials while discovering more about the expert's experience and opinions. More to the point, she wants to come to know the expert inside and out and by doing so, hopefully uncover information she can use to minimize the value of her expertise, if not discredit her outright.

A phone call to the registrar's office of the university where the psychologist earned her doctorate confirms the degree and year awarded. The lawyers also verify the status of the expert's many licenses, and obtain information about the existence of disciplinary actions, with phone calls to the appropriate state agencies and national associations. A phone call to the National Association of School Psychologists, for example, reveals a current license with no record of disciplinary actions.

Next, the lawyers search for expert testimony in court opinions. Familiar databases on LexisNexis and Westlaw facilitate discovery of reported decisions mentioning the expert. To find unreported opinions and settled litigation, X recommends querying news and jury verdict sources as well as specialty reporters.

Relevant sources available on LexisNexis include summaries of jury verdict awards (VERDCT/EXPRT), the National Disability Law Reporter (EDLAW/NDLRT) and BNA's AD Cases (EDLAW/BNAADA). Westlaw also offers jury verdict summaries (JV-NAT) as well as abstracts of expert testimony (NETS). But the lawyers strike gold when they query Westlaw's database containing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Law Reporter (IDELR). They find five unreported decisions, four of which the searches in the general federal and state case law databases failed to uncover.

From queries in news sources, the lawyers learn about a teaching position that the psychologist held - at least at the time of the article. It does not appear on the c.v. They discover earlier degrees and programs of study as well as information about scheduled testimony on state legislative educational matters. Moreover, they find opinion, and plenty of it, in a local newspaper that appears often to seek a quote from the psychologist.

Wanting more from the horse's mouth, the lawyers begin a search for the expert as author and speaker. They connect to ERIC, a database containing bibliographic information about educational literature published since 1966. While Westlaw provides access to the database, the lawyers opt to try it first at the cost-free Ask ERIC Web site.

M wants to know how Lawyer X discovered the database. He breaks the news about the lack of any one resource for finding specialty databases, but mentions that a handful of Web sites labor to catalog what they find. These finding tools include Librarians Index to the Internet, INFOMINE, Scout Archives, Resource Discovery Network, and Invisible-Web.net.

When the ERIC database yields no writings by this expert, the lawyers search for a database covering literature in the field of psychology. They discover PsychINFO by the American Psychological Association. This database contains bibliographic information and abstracts about professional literature published since 1887.

The lawyers uncover an abstract about the expert's doctoral dissertation. To obtain the full-text, they will ask about its availability at the university library where the psychologist earned her doctorate. They also could check its availability with a source like UMI that publishes and archives dissertations and theses.

Failing to discover published works or conference papers via these traditional sources, the lawyers decide to look for a Web site by the expert. Perhaps, if it exists, it will reveal additional publications.

Serendipity! The lawyers find the Web site simply by entering the psychologist's name as a dot com (e.g., expertname.com). Other search techniques include:

  • Use of the URL field qualifier at Google (e.g., allinurl: firstname lastname)

  • A Google search for a tilde in a URL (e.g., allinurl:~ lastname)

The expert's Web site lists several articles, which appear primarily in smaller specialty newsletters. One covers the exact issue about which she will testify. More importantly, the Web site reveals publications under a different last name. This is a common issue when checking the background of a female expert.

The lawyers could track down copies of these articles by contacting the organizations and associations that publish the newsletters. In this case, however, the expert kindly provides copies at her site. The lawyers also do not have to worry about authenticity, or the remote possibility that the psychologist changed the materials since their original publication. Instead of word-processed or HTML documents, she offers images of the articles as originally published.

To be thorough, the lawyers repeat the research for expert testimony, articles and conference papers using the psychologist's former last name. Then they connect to sites like the online catalog of the Library of Congress, the Library of Congress' copyright database, and Amazon.com to search for books authored by the expert.

Next, they look for congressional testimony. As Lawyer X explained to Associate A recently (Eleventh-hour Research, Dec/Jan 2002), a variety of sources exist for conducting legislative research. On Lexis, for example, they select the CIS Index (LEGIS/CISINX). Here they easily may discover testimony by entering a query as follows:

testimony(lastname and firstname)

The lawyers also should query the Web sites of the House and Senate. While the House provides a search engine for all of its Web sites, the Senate does not. One method for querying Senate Web pages involves the use of several general engines. This strategy probably will not search every existing Senate Web page, but it beats browsing page by page through all the Senate sites.

To run such a query, connect to engines like Google, AltaVista, and AllTheWeb that let you limit a search to a particular domain. Format the queries like this:

  • Google: "expert's name" site:senate.gov

  • AltaVista: +"expert's name" +host:senate.gov

  • AllTheWeb: "expert's name" url.host:senate.gov

Another source of opinion, albeit typically consumer rather than expert, includes messages posted to public groups, forums or message boards. Google Groups provides a large archive of newsgroup messages that dates back to 1981. The lawyers conduct a search for the expert as message author (e.g., author:firstname author:lastname or author:emailaddress@domain.com). This uncovers one message about an unrelated computer problem.

Tomorrow, the lawyers will continue the research as they investigate business affiliations, personal or corporate bankruptcies, past and pending lawsuits or judgments, and an assortment of other public records. Delving into public records may reveal information ranging from contributions to political candidates to a default on a Health Education Assistance Loan. But that's another research adventure for another day.

M exclaims, "This is incredible, X! I'll wade through the articles tonight and begin tracking down the trial and deposition transcripts for the unreported cases tomorrow."

"Don't forget to track down more information about the state legislative hearings we found," Lawyer X reminds her.

"Right. And the dissertation." M pauses. "You know, X, I may end up knowing more about this expert than I do my own sister."

"But the information is a matter of public record." She lifts the pitch of her voice so that the statement results in a question.

"Yeah," X quips, "Such a shame, isn't it?"


Go to Part 2 of this article.


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Created: 29 May 2002
Revised: 17 July 2002
URL: https://www.virtualchase.com/articles/archive/expert_witness.html

Suggestions: Genie Tyburski, tvceditor [at] virtualchase [dot] com