The judge who will preside over the criminal trial next year of former Blue Bell Ice Cream President Paul Kruse is giving the defense team more time to sort out the expert witnesses they may need.
Federal Judge Robert Pitman extended the deadline for the defense to share their expert witness list with the government to Dec.13, 2021.
Defense attorneys Chris Flood of Houston and John Cline of San Francisco asked the judge to extend the disclosure of expert witnesses and so-called Daubert challenges.
Daubert challenges are pre-trial opportunities for lawyers to examine the testimony before a judge of the opposing side’s experts. The expert’s reasoning and methodology, and scientific validity are subject to challenge. Daubert hearings prevent unscientific testimony from being used to convict a person of a crime.
Flood and Cline filed a motion informing the judge that the parties “are in discussion to narrow the breadth and scope of potential expert testimony.”
“The defense needs additional time to determine which experts are needed, and both parties would then need additional time to determine whether Daubert challenges are appropriate,” the defense team wrote.
The government’s prosecution team did not oppose the defense request. In addition to moving forward the exert witness date to Dec. 14, Judge Pittman extended the deadline for Daubert motions to Jan. 7, 2022, and for responses to those motions to Jan. 21, 2022.
A federal Grand Jury charged Kruse with conspiracy and fraud. Charges stem from a deadly 2015 listeriosis outbreak that forced Blue Bell to recall its products and temporarily shut down its plants.
Department of Justice attorney Patrick Hearn led the four-year investigation into the outbreak. Hearn also led the 2014 criminal prosecution of Peanut Corporation of American managers and executives in relation to another deadly outbreak related to peanut butter and peanut paste.
DOJ attorneys Kathryn A. Schmidt and Matthew J. Lash make up the Blue Bell prosecution team.
As a corporate entity, Blue Bell pleaded guilty in a related case in 2020 to two counts of distributing adulterated food products in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
The company agreed to pay criminal penalties totaling $17.5 million and $2,1 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations regarding ice cream products manufactured under insanitary conditions and sold to federal facilities, including the military. The total $19.35 million in fines, forfeiture, and civil settlement payments was the second-largest amount ever paid in the resolution of a food safety matter.
Kruse, 66, was the long-time president that led Blue Blue through the 2015 listeriosis crisis and remained for about three years before retiring. In 2020, a federal grand jury indicted Kruse for conspiracy and fraud, a total of seven federal felonies.
The 2015 listeriosis outbreak led to the removal of all Blue Bell products from all of its production facilities including ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet, and frozen snacks.
Ten people with listeriosis were associated with the outbreak from four states: Arizona (1), Kansas (5), Oklahoma (1), and Texas (3). Kansas reported three deaths. All of the others required hospital care.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released the critical findings from recent inspections at the Blue Bell production facilities on May 7, 2015.
Listeriosis is a life-threatening infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium (germ) Listeria monocytogenes (Listeria). People at highest risk for listeriosis include pregnant women and their newborns, adults 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)