Hailing from 39 states, 136 appellate state court judges representing both supreme courts and intermediate appellate courts attended the first Annual Judicial Symposium sponsored by the newly-created National Foundation for Judicial Excellence (NFJE). The Symposium took place on July 15-16, 2005 in Chicago.
As reflected in its mission statement, one of the goals of the NFJE is to provide educational opportunities to sitting judges to assist them in dealing with the complex issues they face on a daily basis. The topic of this first NFJE Symposium was "Science In The Courtroom." The overriding issue under discussion was the effect upon the admissibility of expert opinions, if any, which has resulted from the 1993 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
The participating judges were in session solidly from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. including a presentation during lunch by Nina Totenburg, the highly regarded legal correspondent for NPR. The judges were addressed by and interacted with three well credentialed academicians: David Bernstein of George Mason Law School; Edward Cheng of Brooklyn Law School; and Jennifer Mnookin of UCLA. The judges witnessed a simulated pre-trial " Daubert" hearing where a plaintiff's expert in a toxic tort case was examined first by defense counsel and, then, by plaintiff's counsel. The demonstration was followed by oral argument.
In almost every significant civil lawsuit the quality of expert opinion evidence is critical to reaching an acceptable outcome. Small breakout groups permitted the judges to discuss the many issues relating to the admissibility of expert testimony that impact the goal of achieving a fair and just trial result. The consensus of the judges seemed to be that ensuring quality expert evidence depended on the extent to which the trial judge was committed to performing a gatekeeper function.
The enthusiasm of the judges attending this Symposium was demonstrated by a remarkable 75% of the attendees taking the time to submit a written evaluation of the program. One-hundred percent of the responding judges said they would attend another NFJE Judicial Symposium. Planning is under way for next year's judicial symposium.
The NFJE is a 501(C)(3) educational organization committed to advocating for and strengthening America's civil justice system. It was created by the DRI - The Voice of the Defense Bar, the largest organization of lawyers representing defendants in civil litigation in the world, to provide balanced educational programs for the nation's judiciary. Please visit www.nfje.net for more information.
Published November 1, 2005.