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The ‘real life’ experience of an expert witness

TASA ID: 408

I had begun my career as a teacher a long time ago.  After some years, having become state certified as a school principal, I also took an interest in the business world.  However, the time was not yet ripe for me to change fields.   While working on my doctorate degree in school administration, I served as a public school principal and then as principal and director of education in the independent school world.  Even later, I served as headmaster of a rather well-known independent school in one of the five boroughs of New York City.  It was when that school – after changing “ownership” – closed, I decided it was time for me to enter the business world.

We started with a folding table in one room of our home and rapidly over the course of three or four successful years, expanded our business to having an office in New York on Long Island, another in central New Jersey and a third in metropolitan Washington, D. C.  All three, separate corporations, were devoted to the recruitment and placement of educators from kindergarten through high school.

It was during our growing years, when I was serving as president of the now defunct National Association of Teachers Agencies, I was contacted to serve as an expert witness in a very unusual case.  The case involved a group of professional educators in a northeastern state.

The particular public school district involved had accepted the retirement-resignation of several teachers to become effective at the close of the academic year in late June. They’d all submitted their letters of retirement at some time in the April prior. The four teachers involved in this case were very senior …senior in longevity in that school district and very senior on the salary scale…although they had not yet reached the full retirement age.

Parting parties were held.  Gifts were given.  Goodbye was said.  Final paychecks were issued.  Books were packed, identification cards were turned back to the office.

By mid-July the Board of Education for the district had decided to promote a ‘buy-out’ for other “older” employees (older in the sense of senior status.  The district would offer a 60-month (five year) incentive.  That means an extra five years would be added to the pension level of teacher who would take the incentive.  The pension normally would be calculated at – let’s say – 70% of the average of the final three years of employment; i.e., a teacher making $70,000 one year; $72,000 the next year and $83,000 the third year would collect $75,000 per year in pension.  However, with the extra five years added at the $83,000 per year level, the pension would now be $83,000 per year or $8,000 higher than first calculated.

The four newly retired teachers sued for reinstatement so they could collect the increased pension; they wanted to wait a mere three weeks to submit the retirement papers again.  The school district fought the reinstatement.  The case wound its way through the courts and in the end, almost four years later, the district had lost.  The teachers were reinstated for a matter of hours before retiring again.  However, in addition to the increased benefit provision, they sued for the salary they would have received had they actually been immediately reinstated.  Each claimed an additional $332,000 in lost wages.

They found me! That is, the district personnel department sought an expert in teacher compensation and familiar with the salary and job openings in the geographic area of both the district itself and the geographic areas of the homes of each of the four teachers.  The ‘fighting’ premise of the district was that the teachers could have and should have sought employment elsewhere within the geographic confines indicated during the four-year court battle, and thus mitigated the damages suffered while arguing in court for the reinstatement.  Because of my familiarity with the job openings within the commuting area of the homes of the teachers, and my familiarity with the salary ranges within those alternative possible employment opportunities, I was to prepare an extensive report of the number of job openings for which each teacher had appropriate state teacher certification which were available for each of the four teachers for the ‘missing’ four years.

What a simple task!  As is widely known, expert witnesses are paid for appearance time, as well as any required preparation time.  My fee was around $200 per hour.  In today’s computer world, I would have only had to press a few buttons; click a few lines; presto-I’d have the information I was seeking.  However, while computers were becoming common-place in the work world at that time, our ‘historical’ records had not yet been entered into electronic archives.  The required research had to be conducted ‘by hand.’  An awesome and time-consuming experience…but, in the end, the desired results were located successfully.  My research took a bit less than 200 hours, including putting together the fully developed report for which I was retained.

I was prepared for testimony.  I anxiously awaited the chance to demonstrate my skills and knowledge.  I had practiced my driving route to be sure to get to court on time.  I was ready.  I certainly felt I was ready.  Yes, I was ready!

No one else was ready!

The attorney for the teachers was delayed out of town.

The attorney for the district wound up with a scheduling conflict.

The judge had a cold.

Four months later a new court date was set.  I had a severe upper respiratory infection, but most certainly I was not going to ask the court or the attorney (district) who had hired me for any delay on my account.  I was sworn to tell the truth and the whole truth.  I coughed and sneezed a bit.  The attorneys – simultaneously almost – asked for a side-bar, which was granted and which was followed immediately by a meeting of both sides in judge’s chambers.

I sat there waiting.

About an hour later the court entertained a settlement agreement and a stipulation into the record whereby both the district and the teachers were satisfied.  The vast majority of my findings was left unheard.  I was dismissed. Another month went by and a check for my ‘hours’ of research time, preparation time, and appearance time was remitted.

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.


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