Government attorneys prosecuting former peanut executive Stewart Parnell want the testimony of a Virginia neuropsychologist excluded altogether from the trial scheduled to get under way this summer.
In a three-pronged attack on Dr. Joseph C. Conley, Jr., the neuropsychologist who claims Parnell suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the government states that his testimony is inadmissible under federal rules of evidence.
K. Alan Dasher, the assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, made the assault on Conley’s qualifications in the government’s response brief to a written request by an attorney for Parnell to officially designate the neuropsychologist as an expert witness. The other government prosecutors are Patrick H. Hearn and Megan Englehart, trial attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch.
U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands gave the two sides an opportunity to brief issues surrounding Conley’s potential status after a day-long evidentiary hearing on the subject held March 13.
Parnell and three other former executives of the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of American are scheduled for a jury trial beginning this summer. The four are charged with a total of 76 federal felony counts. Their indictment stems from a four-year investigation following a Salmonella outbreak in 2008-2009 involving PCA peanut butter that sickened 700 and killed nine people.
Parnell’s defense team gave notice Sept. 16 that it wanted to involve Conley as an expert witness at trial, the same time they entered notice of Parnell’s ADHD diagnosis. The government subsequently asked for the March 13 hearing on the issue.
Dasher claims that hearing shows that Conley’s methodology is not reliable and not based on sufficient facts, that his testimony won’t benefit the jury, and that its potential to provide useful information is substantially outweighed by its potential to confuse and mislead the jury.
Dasher claims Conley’s methodology is unreliable because he failed to interview enough people who knew Parnell or review his medical records before making the ADHD diagnosis. Since ADHD is a childhood condition that can extend into a person’s adult years, the government’s expert held that it was important to delve into one’s records as a youth to validate the diagnosis.
“Adult recall of childhood symptoms tends to be unreliable, and it is beneficial to obtain ancillary information,” Dasher wrote. “Dr. Conley not only failed to obtain ancillary information, he failed to obtained any information as to this requirement. He obtained no childhood history at all from any source before making his diagnosis, not even from his own patient, which, according to Dr. Schretlen, is the minimum a clinician should do.”
Schretlen is a board-certified neuropsychologist on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who is a potential expert witness for the government. He testified extensively on March 13.
Whether Conley is permitted to testify as an expert witness is one of the more important pre-trial decisions Sands will have to make before the start of the jury trial, now scheduled to begin July 14.
The federal criminal trial has already been officially designated as “complex,” with the potential for taking a long time just to get evidence properly introduced. The charges involve conspiracy and fraud, along with allowing shipments of misbranded and adulterated food into interstate commerce.© Food Safety News