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Shocking Testimony! Literally — Lawyer Administers 750-Volt Shock To Witness

That pesky expert witness is claiming that a AAA battery can’t injure your client as much as you claim. How do you undermine his testimony? Confronting him with strongly-worded questions informed by careful scientific research is one way.

Trying to electrocute him is another way.

Guess which one the lawyer chose in this case?

Oh, Watt the hell, I’ll spoil it, the lawyer tried to electrocute him….

Don Howarth of Howarth & Smith is no slouch in the legal world. He’s a Harvard Law grad and an elected Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. So he’s probably really kicking himself over this boneheaded move.

The Los Angeles-based lawyer was admitted pro hac vice in Utah for Gunn Hill Dairy v. Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, a case dealing with shocking cattle. While taking the testimony of one Dr. Meliopoulos, who knows a thing or two about electricity, things got testy and then sparks began to fly. In that order.

Dr. Meliopoulos explained that a person wouldn’t even feel it if they completed the circuit on a 1.5 volt AAA battery. That prompted Howarth to say the following:

a. “Sir, you just told the jury that if you completed the circuit with this AAA battery, you wouldn’t even feel it right?”

b. “Sir, in this pen, I put a AAA battery. The circuit will be completed when you press the back of the pen. Would you like to see whether you can feel the AAA battery, Sir?”

c. “[g]o ahead and push the back of the pen and tell the jury whether you feel it or not.”

Meliopoulos complied, which he probably shouldn’t have. Because electric shock pens like this may run on 1.5 volt AAA batteries, but they also contain a transformer to convert the DC power of the battery to AC current. Delivering up to 750 volts. That is more than enough to kill someone with certain health conditions. Given that Dr. Meliopoulos is over 60, Howarth probably should have asked about his health before jolting him.

Indeed, the pen explicitly warns that it shouldn’t be used on people over 60.

After hearing both sides, Judge James Brady brought the hammer down on Howarth, limiting his pro hac privileges such that he may not cross-examine expert witnesses at the next trial and compelling Howarth to pay $3000 in damages divided between the defendant and the witness.

This is really Expert Witnesses 101. You don’t shock the other side’s expert. You’re supposed to try and fight the “dumb sumbitch.”

The whole sanctions order is available on the next page…

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