How important is your expert witness?

You are heading off to a lecture room, excited to attend this particular lecture as it is taught by your favourite Professor who has a habit of sharing daily pearls of wisdom. He is not just a brilliant educator, but also a world-renowned academic and expert in his field.

On this particular day he informs his eager students that he will be away for a whole month. He further explains that he has been asked to serve as an expert witness in an important and high-profile case. After an audible moan from the students, the Professor continues by saying that he will be travelling to the big city, where he will be expected to deliver his expert opinion. All of this sounds like quite an expensive exercise, which leaves you wondering, "Just how important is an expert witness?"

Katy Perry was recently sued by Marcus Gray, who alleged that large portions of her song Dark horse infringed on his 2008 rendition of Joyful noise. The court ruled in favour of Gray and Perry and her team was ordered to pay $2.8 million in compensation. Unfortunately, this judgment has basically allowed Gray to claim a monopoly over copyright in a musical style. Understandably, musical experts around the world have labelled the ruling a farce and a legal war on creativity. The noticeable outrage by various musical experts begs another question, “How was the court convinced to rule in favour of Marcus Gray?”

The jury was swayed by the expert evidence delivered by Todd Decker, a musicologist and professor, who took the stand and convinced the jury that Gray should own a chunk of minor keys. As mentioned, the court ruling has been criticised by musical experts and Perry’s legal team has accordingly appealed. If her legal team is unsuccessful, the ruling in favour of Gray could set a precedent where every songwriter could potentially be sued left, right and centre by desperate clients looking to make a quick buck.

It is apparent from Katy Perry’s case that her legal team underestimated the importance of selecting an experienced expert witness to strengthen their case. Furthermore, an underwhelming and inexperienced expert witness will allow for the opposing side to easily poke holes in the evidence presented.

Selecting a qualified expert witness is no simple task and will most definitely require some extensive research by both you and your attorney. Your expert witness should be well-respected by his peers as a professional in his or her field. No doubt it would also be advantageous for your expert to have several publications, books or presentations to his or her name to bolster his or her credibility as an expert witness. Finally, it is important for an expert witness to have the necessary character to withstand  cross-examination in the witness box i.e. the ability to not be put off by inconvenient or even unfair questions, and to persist unemotionally in giving the evidence and reasons supporting it,  that he or she has been engaged to give.

Simply put, a qualified expert witness can be seen as an additional weapon in your arsenal, while using an inexperienced expert witness will most probably leave you defenceless and wishing that you took the time to instead contact your favourite Professor.