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March 15, 2012
Expert testimony bill moves

(Editor's Note Update: The expert testimony bills referred to in the following story died in the waning days of the legislative session. A complete update will be included in the April 1 News.)

Bills changing the Florida Evidence Code to require judges to weigh in on expert testimony passed the Florida House as the 2012 legislative session entered its concluding weeks and were considered by a Senate committee.

Rep. Metz The House passed HB 243 on February 24, while the Senate Budget Committee unanimously passed SB 378 February 29.

The bill brings what is called the Daubert standard to determining whether expert testimony will be allowed, replacing the Frye standard established by the Florida Supreme Court.

Under Daubert, expert testimony must be based on sufficient facts, as well as reliable principles and methods, and must be reliably applied to the facts of the case as determined by the judge. With Frye, the testimony must be based on information that “is generally accepted in the field from which it emanates,” according to Rep. Larry Metz, R-Eustis, sponsor of the House bill.

Opponents said it would lead to more evidentiary hearings over expert testimony, allow well-heeled litigants to prolong litigation and raise costs for their opponents, and give jurors less of a say about cases they are deciding. Supporters said it would bring more predictability to the law and reduce the use of “junk” science.

The House rejected an amendment from Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, to appropriate $1.2 million for state attorneys to pay for the greater number of hearings expected under the Daubert standard.

Metz conceded that more money might be needed, but he said the provision should have gone through the regular appropriations process.

Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, said the bill removes the jury as the fact finder for the validity of scientific evidence and substitutes the judge.

“We are basically eliminating a large portion of the right to a jury,” he said. “Are we going to put this in the hands of a jury, or are we going to put this in the hands of a judge? I ask that we keep this the way our founding fathers wanted, and that is with the jury.”

But Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Ft. Walton Beach, said the bill places a higher value on the “science” of the Daubert approach, instead of the “theatrics” that can prevail under Frye.

“I’ll choose science over theatrics,” he said.

The House approved the bill 77-34.

[Revised: 04-08-2014]