Eye experts are often requested to testify at administrative hearings that are adjudicated by an administrative law judge. Administrative hearings are similar to other types of legal proceedings except for two important distinctions. First, what is at issue in these cases is a person’s or company’s license to engage in a regulated business or profession. No one can be sent to jail as a result of these proceedings. Second, the case is heard by an administrative law judge, not a jury.
The administrative law judge sits in the front of the room and should be referred to as “you honor.” The court reporter and the witness stand are usually located on the right side of the room. The attorney representing a state agency sit facing the stand. On the opposite side of the hearing room is seated the accused party, who is called the “respondent” in cases presided by an administrative law judge. At the back of the hearing room are chairs for witnesses and the public. While the hearing is taking place, expert witnesses are generally required to sit in another area until called to take the stand.
Expert witnesses are asked about pertinent medical information. If an expert witness is asked about an event that happened months or years before, it may be helpful for the expert to review the documents shortly before testimony. It may be especially helpful for an expert witness to review their written statement before testifying in court. Any written documents used by the expert to refresh a memory may need to be produced at the hearing if requested by the opposing side. The expert witness must state what he or she recalls, not what somebody else has told them. Second hand information is known in legal jargon as heresay.
Expert witnesses are expected to dress respectfully when they appear in court. Usual professional business attire will usually suffice. Coming to the hearing room well in advance of the actual hearing will allow discussion of any last minute matters. Smoking, eating, drinking an gum chewing are not permitted in the hearing room and may be restricted in certain areas of the building.
It is important for an expert witness to listen carefully to questions posed by attorneys. It is important to make sure that the question is understood before answering. Many attorneys advise that an expert not answer a question that has not been fully comprehended. Experts usually think through the questions before answering.
Many questions may be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. Volunteering additional information may become legally objectionable under rules of evidence. The expert witness is generally expected to provide conclusions and opinions or professional and tecgnical subjects. Whenever possible, experts should avoid saying “I think so,” or “I believe,” or “In my opinion” if the facts are clearly known. There is nothing wring with saying “I don’t know” when the facts are not clear or when the expert is not able to interpret the facts. If asked about little details that are no remembered, an expert may simply answer that he or she does not recall.
Experts need to be wary of over broad generalizations that may need to be retracted. Experts need to be particularly careful in responding to questions that begin, “Wouldn’t you agree that …?” If one of your answers is wrong or unclear, an expert should consider corre4cting it immediately. It is usually better for an expert to correct his or her mistake than to have the opposing attorney discover an error in the expert’s testimony. If an expert realizes that an answer was incorrectly delivered, it is appropriate to say, “May I correct something I said earlier?” or “I realize now that something I said earlier should be corrected.”
Experts are reminded to immediately stop their testimony when the judge interrupts or when an attorney objects. It is important to wait for the judge’s ruling. If an objection is “overruled,” then the expert may proceed with an answer.
At the conclusion of testimony by the experts and other witnesses an adminsitrative law judge will not announce a decision at the end of the case. Instead, the judge will “take the case under submission” and announce the outcome in writing, in about 30 days. The state agency will then have an opportunity of either accepting, rejecting or modifying the administrative law judge’s decision. The credible eye expert witness who provides testimony for an administrative hearing is a valued part of the legal process.