Defense attorneys for former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) president Stewart Parnell want the opportunity to challenge the expert testimony of eight potential prosecution witnesses before the delayed trial starts on July 28. Several of the U.S. government’s top food safety officials are among the witnesses being challenged. In a defense motion filed Monday, they asked U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands to conduct individual pre-trial hearings to determine the admissibility of expert testimony from each of the eight potential witnesses. Such a proceeding is referred in the federal courts to as a “Daubert hearing.” Among the eight who may be targets of such hearings as early as next week are:

  • Virginia (Jenny) N. Scott, senior advisor to the federal Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) director at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). She is to testify on the nature and characteristics of Salmonella, proper testing procedures for Salmonella, and other pathogens and good manufacturing practices.
  • Dr. Donald L. Zink, senior science advisory to the CFSAN director. He is to testify about interviews he conducted that were previously provided to the defense, including the nature and characteristics of Salmonella, proper testing procedures, and good manufacturing practices.
  • Tracey M. Buchholz, corporate director of quality for Deibel Laboratories Group. He will likely be called in lieu of Charles Deibel, the company’s president. Both are listed as expert witnesses for testing result procedures, laboratory test results and related issues.
  • Dr. Rueben Beverly, director of the plant industry division of the Georgia Department of Agriculture. He was formerly the Georgia State Chemist and director of GDA’s chemical laboratories. He is to testify about the results of microbiological testing.
  • Gwendolyn Anderson, supervisory microbiologist at the FDA Arkansas Regional Laboratory. She is also supposed to testify about positive Salmonella test results. The sample of the PCA-made King Nut peanut butter collected from a Georgia food bank went through her laboratory.
  • Grisel Rosario, microbiologist for the Food and Drug Protection Division, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Rosario and Miller (listed next) will testify on their report concerning positive Salmonella test results on Kellogg’s-owned Austin Quality Food products containing PCA ingredients.
  • Stephen Miller, microbiologist for the Food and Drug Protection Division, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
  • Dr. Ian Williams,  the top official for investigating all multistate outbreaks of foodborne illness for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. He is to testify about all CDC reports and records stemming from the 2008-09 Salmonella outbreak that was associated with PCA products.

According to Legal Source 360, a Daubert (“dow-bert”) hearing is an evaluation conducted away from the jury by a trial judge on the admissibility of defined “expert,” or scientific and technical, testimony and evidence. Sands has already conducted one Daubert hearing in this case. That was a seven-hour session in March over whether Dr. Joseph Conley, Jr., a Virginia neuropsychologist, was going to be allowed to offer expert testimony on behalf of Stewart Parnell. Conley testified that Parnell suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Sands decided such testimony was inadmissible because it “lacks a link with the allegations in this case.” Defense attorneys for Parnell, his peanut broker brother Michael Parnell, and PCA quality control manager Mary Wilkerson last week cried foul because the prosecution was late in giving them about 100,000 pages of additional documents. Sands responded to their concerns by delaying the trial for two weeks. Parnell’s aggressive defense team from Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore in Roanoke, VA, says that more pre-trial hearings are needed because the government has been slow in naming experts and producing their reports. “A review of a portion of the voluminous material received from the government on June 30, 2014, provides little insight into the methodology utilized by, or the reliability of, the government’s purported experts,” the defense motion states. “As a result, there are remaining questions, both as to the witnesses’ qualifications and the methodology utilized to arrive at whatever opinions they may provide.” Parnell’s attorneys suggest Sands could schedule the eight hearings over four days next week, beginning on July 21. While saying they don’t “presume to know the Court’s calendar,” they suggest all parties should be available since, as of last Friday, all planned on being involved in the trial next week. They also make the “fair is fair” argument: “Counsel for Stewart Parnell anticipates that this Court will conduct these Daubert hearings as it did for Dr. Conley.” For that potential expert witness, they say the defense was required to “demonstrate the expert’s qualifications, methodology, reliability and opinions,” all subject to cross-examination. Parnell’s attorneys asked the government to agree to their plan for next week, but were advised to file their motion with the court first. The three former PCA executives were indicted in February 2013, along with former plant manager Samuel Lightsey, who entered into a plea agreement with the government this past May.