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Scores of judges are going to a new kind of medical school, not to become doctors, but science-grounded jurists. Judges in several states are participating in a new program in which they attend science classes, taught by doctors and scientists, so they can better understand and interpret cases that involve complex scientific theories. Such cases-whether they be medical malpractice, products liability or intellectual property suits-are increasingly popping up in their courts, they say. And, they note, if judges are to be the gatekeepers of scientific evidence, as the 1993 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993), has mandated, then more knowledge of science is essential. “What we’re seeing are more and more cases that hinge on very extremely complicated scientific principles,” said Ohio trial judge Lee Sinclair, adding that judges are under increasing pressure to weed out unreliable medical testimony. “Is this really science or is it junk? That’s a huge thing right now, in any type of litigation.” Nonprofit effort Sinclair, who sits in the Stark County Court of Common Pleas, is one of dozens of judges from Ohio, Maryland, North Carolina, New York and Illinois who are participating in an ongoing science school run by the Advanced Science and Technology Adjudication Resource Center in Washington. ASTAR, a nonprofit organization comprising judges, legal experts and scientists, aims to produce 1,000 scientifically and technologically grounded jurists by 2010. Future courses will cover genetics, bioscience, computer science and nanotechnology. A seminar on novel science in the courtroom is scheduled for October at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. ASTAR’s first science class was a March breast-cancer seminar at the University of North Carolina Medical School. Judges learned about treatments, and saw enactments of doctors telling patients they had the disease, and what the patients’ options are. “I learned to appreciate, from the physicians’ point of view, the difficulty of dealing with the disease�.It showed me how difficult it is to say that a patient has given informed consent [to treatment] when the information has to get through this barrier of being told you have breast cancer,” said U.S. District Senior Judge Marvin J. Garbis, a Maryland jurist who attended the cancer seminar. Sinclair, who also attended the seminar, said he gained a new appreciation for the trauma and confusion experienced by the patient. “They didn’t really hear a lot of what the doctor said because of the big shock involved of being told you have the big ‘C,’ ” Sinclair said. Garbis, who has a background in engineering, feels “pretty well informed” when it comes to science, but said that many judges need additional science training. “I have dealt with decisions that show me the judge didn’t understand the subject matter,” said Garbis. Attorney Richard Hailey, former president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, echoed that sentiment, noting that he’s run across a number of judges who lack scientific understanding. “We need to give this area some attention. I think that we do have to find ways of assisting members of the bench at receiving more instruction and guidance in the whole area of scientific evidence. It has to become more of a priority,” said Hailey, of Ramey & Hailey, a plaintiffs’ firm in Indianapolis. Hailey recalled a recent case he handled in which a judge denied damages to the family of a woman who died during childbirth. He claims that the judge didn’t understand the subject matter. He argued the woman died before the baby was removed, but the judge ruled otherwise. “It was obvious the judge lacked the medical sophistication,” Hailey said. “The judge knew nothing about those issues and he was not guided by expert testimony at all. He went his own way.” Meanwhile, Hailey said that he supports the goal of the ASTAR program-to churn out science-savvy judges. “But I am very cautious in who does the teaching and who does the educating�because there are all sorts of opportunities for biases to enter into even the training.” Attorney Alaina Stout of the litigation defense firm Flaherty Sensabaugh & Bonasso in Charleston, W.Va., said that having judges with more knowledge of science will ease some of the workload for attorneys. She noted that lawyers are mostly responsible for explaining science theories to juries and judges. Now the judges will already have some of that knowledge. “I think it’s a great idea for judges if they take the initiative to move into the [science] courses,” Stout said. “It would be easier for us.”

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