Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, October 25, 2021


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Panel Reverses Judgment in Action by Inmate, Finds Judge’s Reasoning Inconsistent


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A California inmate who sued two medical doctors for violating his civil rights by medicating him involuntarily and lost at trial will have a second chance at establishing liability because he was denied the appointment of a neutral expert at the first trial, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has declared.

In a memorandum decision filed Thursday, a three-judge panel reversed the judgment in favor of prison psychiatrists Craig W. Essex and Carol A. Banyas. It quotes District Court Judge John A. Mendez of the Eastern District of California as saying, in denying the motion by Tracey Bernard Washington for services of a neutral medical expert, as saying:

“[I]t is a he said/she said case. I mean, it’s clear it’s a credibility case. And experts don’t add anything and experts can’t testify....All they can do is take what [Defendant Doctors] say and render an opinion, which doesn’t assist the jury in this case. It’s clearly a credibility case here….And I’m not going to waste the jury’s time or the Court’s time with an expert that’s not going to add anything to the issues in this case. It’s a very simple, straightforward case. And I’m not going to try to complicate it with experts that don’t add anything and may have to shade over into legal opinions....I’m not going to allow the experts to testify.”

The Ninth Circuit panel—comprised of Senior Circuit Judge Jay S. Bybee and Circuit Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson, joined by District Court Judge Kathleen Cardone of the Western District of Texas, sitting by designation—noted:

“Having provided these extensive remarks regarding why expert testimony was unnecessary, the district court immediately thereafter designated the Defendant Doctors as experts, without revisiting its denial of Washington’s request for the appointment of an expert.”

The judges commented:

“Of course, the expert testimony proffered by the Defendant Doctors was unrefuted due to the district court’s earlier denial of Washington’s request for the appointment of an expert. By allowing the Defendant Doctors to testify as experts, the district court’s undermined its prior ruling that no expert testimony was necessary to resolve the case.

“Under the unique confluence of these events, we conclude that the district court plainly erred, that Washington’s substantial rights were affected….”

The panel ordered that at a new trial, a neutral expert be appointed to testify and that Essex and Banyas testify “only as fact witnesses.”

The case is Washington v. Essex, 18-16644.

Washington is serving a sentence, as a third-strike offender, of 45 years to life. His latest crime was making terrorist threats.


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