Can an Expert Witness Be Too Biased to Be Allowed to Testify

The Case of Barry Castleman

Barry Castleman has been a fixture in asbestos litigation for over three decades. By all appearances, he was the creation of the litigation industry. Castleman received a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering in 1968, and a master’s degree in environmental engineering, in 1972. In 1975, he started as a research assistant to plaintiffs’ counsel in asbestos litigation, and in 1979, he commenced his testimonial adventures as a putative expert witness for plaintiffs’ counsel. Enrolled in a doctoral program, Castleman sent chapters of his thesis to litigation industry mentors for review and edits. In 1985, Castleman received a doctorate degree, with the assistance of a Ron Motley fellowship. See John M. Fitzpatrick, “Digging Deep to Attack Bias of Plaintiff Experts,” DRI Products Liability Seminar (2013).

Castleman candidly testified, on many occasions, that he was not an epidemiologist, a biostatistician, a toxicologist, a physician, a pathologist, or any other kind of healthcare professional. He is not a trained historian. Understandably, courts puzzled over exactly what someone like Castleman should be allowed to testify about. Many courts limited or excluded Castleman from remunerative testimonial roles[1]. Still, in the face of his remarkably inadequate training, education, and experience, Castleman persisted, and often prevailed, in making a living at testifying about the historical “state of the art” of medical knowledge about asbestos over time.

The result was often not pretty. Castleman worked not just as an expert witness, but also as an agent of plaintiffs’ counsel to suppress evidence. “The Selikoff – Castleman Conspiracy” (May 13, 2011). As a would-be historian, Castleman was controlled and directed by the litigation industry to avoid inconvenient evidence. “Discovery into the Origin of Historian Expert Witnesses’ Opinions” (Jan. 30, 2012). Despite his covert operations, and his exploitation of defendants’ internal documents, Castleman complained more than anyone about the scrutiny created by his self-chosen litigation roles. In 1985, pressed for materials he had considered in formulating his “opinions,” Castleman wrote a personal letter to the judge, the Hon. Hugh Gibson of Galveston, Texas, to object to lawful discovery into his activities:

“1. It threatens me ethically through demands that I    divulge material submitted in confidence, endangering my good name and reputation.
2. It exposes me to potential liability arising from the release of correspondence and other materials provided to me by others who assumed I would honor their confidence.
3. It jeopardizes my livelihood in that material requested reveals strategies of parties with whom I consult, as well as other materials of a confidential nature.
4. It is far beyond the scope of relevant material to my qualifications and the area of expert testimony offered.
5. It is unprecedented in 49 prior trials and depositions where I have testified, in federal and state courts all over the United States, including many cases in Texas. Never before have I had to produce such voluminous and sensitive material in order to be permitted to testify.
6. It is excessively and unjustifiably intrusive into my personal and business life.
7. I have referenced most of the information I have in my 593-page book, “Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects.” The great majority of the information I have on actual knowledge of specific defendants has come from the defendants themselves.
8. All information that I have which is relevant to my testimony and qualifications has been the subject of numerous trials and depositions since 1979.”

Castleman Letter to Hon. Hugh Gibson (Nov. 5, 1985).

Forty years later, Castleman is still working for the litigation industry, and courts are still struggling to figure out what role he should be allowed as a testifying expert witness.

Last year, the Delaware Supreme Court had to order a new trial for R. T. Vanderbilt, in part because Castleman had blurted out non-responsive, scurrilous hearsay statements that:

(1) employees of Johns-Manville (a competitor of R.T. Vanderbilt) had called employees of Vanderbilt “liars;”

(2) R.T. Vanderbilt spent a great amount of money on studies and activities to undermine federal regulatory action on talc; and

(3) R.T. Vanderbilt was “buying senators and lobbying the government.”

The Delaware court held that Castleman’s gratuitous, unsolicited testimony on cross-examination was inadmissible, and that his conduct required a new trial.  R.T. Vanderbilt Co. v. Galliher, No. 510, 2013, 2014 WL 3674180 (Del. July 24, 2014).

Late last year, a federal court ruled, pre-trial, that Castleman may testify over Rule 702 objections because he “possesses ‘specialized knowledge’ regarding the literature relating to asbestos available during the relevant time periods,” and that his testimony “could be useful to the jury as a ‘sort of anthology’ of the copious available literature.” Krik v. Crane Co., No. 10-cv-7435, – F. Supp. 2d -, 2014 WL 5350463, *3 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 21, 2014). Because Castleman was little more than a sounding board for citing and reading sections of the historical medical literature, the district court prohibited him from testifying as to the accuracy of any conclusions in the medical literature. Id.

Last week, another federal court took a different approach to keeping Castleman in business. In ruling on defendant’s Rule 702 objections to Castleman, the court held:

“I agree with defendant that plaintiffs have made no showing that Castleman is qualified to explain the meaning and significance of medical literature. Further, there is no suggestion in Krik that Castleman is qualified as an expert in that respect. To the extent that plaintiffs want Castleman simply to read excerpts from medical articles, they do not explain how doing so could be helpful to the jury. Accordingly, I am granting defendant’s motion as it relates to Castleman’s discussion of the medical literature.

***

However, Castleman’s report also includes discussions of articles in trade journals and government publications, which, presumably, would not require medical expertise to understand or summarize.”

Suoja v. Owens-Illinois, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63170, at *3 (W.D.Wisc. May 14, 2015). Judge Barbara Crabb thus disallowed medical state of the art testimony from Castleman, but permitted him to resume his sounding board role for non-medical and other historical documents referenced in his Rule 26 report.

The strange persistence of Barry Castleman, and the inconsistent holdings of dozens of opinions strewn across the asbestos litigation landscape, raise the question whether someone so biased, so entrenched in a litigation role, so lacking in the requisite expertise, should simply be expunged from the judicial process. Rather than struggling to find some benign, acceptable role for Barry Castleman, perhaps courts should just say no. “How Testifying Historians Are Like Lawn-Mowing Dogs” (May 24, 2010).


[1] See, e.g., Van Harville v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., CV-78-642-H (S.D. Ala 1979); In re Related Asbestos Cases, 543 F. Supp. 1142, 1149 (N.D. Cal. 1982) (rejecting Castleman’s bid to be called an “expert”) (holding that the court was “not persuaded that Mr. Castleman, as a layperson, possesses the expertise necessary to read complex, technical medical articles and discern which portions of the articles would best summarize the authors’ conclusions”); Kendrick v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., No. C-85-178-AAm (E.D. Wash. 1986); In re King County Asbestos Cases of Levinson, Friedman, Vhugen, Duggan, Bland and Horowitz, No. 81-2-08702-7, (Washington St. Super. Ct. for King Cty.1987); Franze v. Celotex Corp., C.A. No. 84-1316 (W.D. Pa.); Dunn v. Hess Oil Virgin Islands Corp., C.A. No. 1987-238 (D.V.I. May 16, 1989) (excluding testimony of Barry Castleman); Rutkowski v. Occidental Chem. Corp., No. 83 C 2339, 1989 WL 32030, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 16, 1989) (“Castleman lacks the medical background and experience to evaluate and analyze the articles in order to identify which parts of the articles best summarize the authors’ conclusions.”); In re Guam Asbestos Litigation, 61 F.3d 910, 1995 WL 411876 (9th Cir. 1995) (Kozinski, J., dissenting) (“I would also reverse because Barry Castleman was not qualified to testify as an expert witness on the subject of medical state of the art or anything else; he appears to have read a number of articles for the sole purpose of turning himself into an expert witness. Reductio ad absurdum.”); McClure v. Owens Corning Fiberglas Corp. 188 Ill. 2d 102, 720 N.E.2d 242 (1999) (rejecting probativeness of Castleman’s testimony about company conduct).

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