Witness for the prostitution

The Madison County Record Aug. 23, 2009, 7:51am

If a legislator who's a lawyer helps pass legislation that leads to more business for him or his firm, that's not fair. Correct?

What was the motivation: common good, or personal profit? You have to wonder.

How about an expert witness who attempts to rewrite an authoritative, nonpartisan opinion he's being paid to testify about? Can that be fair?

Are his contributions to "science" motivated by the common good, or by personal profit? You have to wonder.

Consider Dr. Arthur Frank, chairman of the department of environmental and occupational health at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and a favored expert witness of asbestos plaintiff lawyers from Madison County.

Frank charges $400 an hour for his services as an expert witness in asbestos-related court cases and pulled in roughly $380,000 for such services last year. His expert earnings are reportedly deposited in an account controlled by Drexel, with a current balance of more than $1 million.

Whatever the propriety of expert witnesses being paid richly for their services, Frank's impartiality has come under question for another reason.

As reported last week in The Record, Ford and Volkswagen are seeking to depose Frank about his efforts to influence authoritative opinions expressed on the presumably agenda-less web site-- www.cancer.gov-- of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which is run by the federal government's National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In a July deposition over five asbestos suits in Madison County, Frank credited himself and South Carolina asbestos-lawyer-friend Christian Hartley for driving significant changes on the web site regarding the relationship between asbestos and cancer.

A Ford attorney who seeks to question Dr. Frank said a deposition "could show that Dr. Frank has crossed the line from expert to advocate."

If it's proven that he has crossed that line and stands accused of prostituting himself for profit or ideology, Frank is discredited as an expert witness – in future, current, and past cases.

Otherwise you could have a scenario in which an expert witness testifies on behalf of plaintiffs in an asbestos suit and corroborates his position with a reference to the supposedly independent NCI site–- a site whose information he has helped write. How could that be fair?

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National Institutes of Health
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20892

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