Legal Experts: Has the Time Arrived?
One of the long-standing principles of evidence is the rule that restricts the courts from hearing the testimony of legal experts as witnesses who can explain the law. The reason for the rule is that judges are expected to form their own opinions of the law and how it applies to a case. That rule once made sense, in the days when most judges heard cases ranging from admiralty to taxation. But today, the law is much more complex and intricate than in the past. Most lawyers these days, and many courts, specialize in a particular area of the law and have relatively little knowledge about other areas. Some courts only hear cases involving workers’ compensation, or trusts and estates, or divorce. Judges who preside in those courts probably practiced law in a particular specialty before they were elected to the bench. Can judges in those courts be expected to form their own opinions about areas of the law they may have never studied and have had no experience? When a bankruptcy issue arises in a divorce case, why can’t the divorce judge hear from a bankruptcy lawyer to explain the law of bankruptcy? Perhaps it is time to relax the evidentiary principle that prohibits experts from testifying about the law.