New AAAS project links judges to experts in science and engineering

San Francisco, CA 16 February 2001Judges who would like to understand the scientific concepts in a complicated case now will have a place to turn to for expertise.

Starting this month, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is offering to help federal judges find well-respected, impartial scientists and engineers to serve as expert witnesses, a step that could help the judiciary understand increasingly complex issues without having to depend on experts whose fees are being paid by the parties in a trial.

The new project, which will be implemented over the next several years, is called Court Appointed Scientific Experts (CASE), and it was developed under the aegis of the National Conference of Lawyers and Scientists (NCLS), a joint standing committee of AAAS and the American Bar Associations Science and Technology Law Section.

The real issue is the new technology, said U.S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman of New Orleans, who participated in the design of the CASE project. The law is evolutionary, and it takes a long time for the law to catch up with new developments in technology...The question is, how can federal judges deal with all these issues that now are arising in federal trials.

Federal judges have had the right to appoint experts to advise both judge and jury since 1975, according to Deborah Runkle, project manager for CASE, which falls under the purview of the AAAS Directorate of Science and Policy Programs. Runkle notes that the authority is rarely used, although she cites a 1993 survey that found that almost 90 percent of the judges questioned would consider appointing an expert to help them comprehend complex technical issues.

The judges dont use this authority to appoint experts, and one reason they dont is that they dont know where to go for the expertise, Runkle says. We think they will feel comfortable coming to us because they can say they are going to an organization with tremendous prestige and

Contact: Cate Alexander
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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