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From the Closed Claim Files: A surprise for the plaintiff's expert

by Marc Clint

Many years ago, I attended a trial in Cleburne, Texas, which is about 40 miles south of Fort Worth, Texas. Our defense counsel was Bill Chamblee, who is known to be an aggressive and successful medical malpractice trial lawyer.

During the direct examination of the plaintiff’s expert by the plaintiff’s counsel, Mr. Chamblee objected on the grounds that this expert witness was not qualified to render such an opinion. The judge excused the jury while both sides got to question the expert about his qualifications and opinions outside the presence of the jury.

The judge ruled that the plaintiff’s expert was not qualified. The judge told the witness not answer the question and asked plaintiff’s counsel to move on.

Before the jury was brought back in, the plaintiff’s expert told the court that he has testified in many trials directly on this subject and was questioning the judge’s decision. The judge was not having any of it. He warned the plaintiff’s expert that if he answered that question or any similar question from plaintiff’s counsel, the witness would be held in contempt.

The judge then had the bailiff bring the jury back in. Plaintiff’s counsel — much to the surprise of everyone — asked a very similar question, to which Mr. Chamblee again objected. Before the court could rule on the objection, the plaintiff’s expert answered the question.

The judge admonished him in front of the jury and reiterated for the jury what was discussed behind closed doors. The plaintiff’s expert tried to explain why he was qualified to testify over the court’s ruling. The judge then calmly ruled the expert was in contempt and instructed the bailiff to arrest him. He was escorted off the stand and taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

After we won the case, the bailiff sent Mr. Chamblee a booking photo of plaintiff’s expert in a white-and-black jail suit. He was kept overnight and fined an unknown amount.