Friday, January 23, 2004

More on John Edwards and Daubert

The story of John Edwards's alleged reliance on "junk science" as a litigator, on which we posted earlier this week, and which was first brought to recent mainstream attention by Walter Olson, is picking up a modicum of steam. In a rare show of moderation, Andrew Sullivan is saying he doesn't "see how it should affect one's views about Edwards as a potential president." But Mickey Kaus (Jan. 20) seems to think the story may have legs, calling it "a promising line of attack against Edwards."

So it's worth mentioning that the expert evidence Edwards has been criticized for using was ruled admissible, in lawsuits in which Edwards's clients prevailed. Litigators, after all, do owe their clients a duty of zealous advocacy. It wasn't Edwards's job to adjudicate his clients' claims himself. It was his duty to present the strongest legally legitimate evidence on their behalf to a court and jury, in furtherance of the clients' interests under applicable law. There's no scandal in that. What would have been scandalous is telling a client that although expert evidence admissible under prevailing legal standards would support a verdict in the client's favor, Edwards personally disagreed with the evidence, or believed it should not be admissible, and therefore wouldn't offer it.

It may be politically relevant that Edwards chose to work as a plaintiffs' lawyer, or that he earned a pretty good living at it. But it seems to us that once he was in that role, offering admissible evidence on behalf of his client was not some moral or ethical failing. It was his job.
Fed. R. Evid. 702: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.