Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Expert or Not? Jason Stellman Then and Now

In the first part of 2011, Jason Stellman solicited for contributions for the expenses of "expert witnesses" (the description used at the time) who were to testify at the trial of Peter Leithart (evidence here).  During the trial, as reported by Stellman himself, Stellman identified his witness as an expert witness:
MODERATOR O’BAN: Well, let me ask the prosecutor, why, what’s the nature of this witness’ testimony if it’s not expert testimony?

STELLMAN: Well, he has read every single theological piece of literature or writing that Leithart has written. He’s read every single book, every single journal article, every single theological book I should say, every journal article. He probably has read as much of Dr. Leithart’s work as anyone else except perhaps Dr. Leithart himself. And so why his competence is called into question here is an answer I would like to hear.

MODERATOR O’BAN: No, I think the question more narrowly framed is in what capacity is this witness being called. He didn’t overhear a statement made by Dr. Leithart that no one else would know but for this witness and in that sense he would be a fact witness. It seems to me you’re calling him because he is conversant on Dr. Leithart’s theology through his writings


MODERATOR O’BAN: And you’re asking him not just simply to regurgitate those writings, but in fact to render and opinion on the nature of those writings vis-à-vis the standards. Correct?

STELLMAN: Correct.

MODERATOR O’BAN: Well, that, that is, I’ll just simply rule, is the capacity of an expert witness. So the question is, is he an expert witness that, it just simply may be that your witness doesn’t, didn’t understand maybe that fine distinction. So you’re calling him here as an expert witness, correct?

STELLMAN: Insofar as I understood what you just said. Yes.

The cross-examination of Stellman's witness, however, seems not to have gone as Stellman would have liked, in that the defense suggested that Stellman's witness was not particularly more expert in theology than anyone else in the presbytery before whom was testifying.

Now Stellman has post talking about how there are no expert witnesses in PCA courts (link to post). That is all well and good, and perhaps - after the fact - he is right.  But what was he doing soliciting for contributions for a role that doesn't exist in the PCA?  Why didn't he know that there are no expert witnesses in PCA courts during this trial that was so important that he flew what he then considered an "expert witness" to be a part of the trial? I thought Stellman was the prosecutor for the trial?  Shouldn't he have familiarized himself with the rules of the PCA before the trial began?

It may not be a lost cause.  Stellman's witness was really called as a fact witness - someone who had carefully read everything that Leithart wrote and could report on that.  Stellman was simply outwitted by those sympathetic to Leithart in his own presbytery. 

Whether or not Stellman knew the rules, the presbytery is charged with following the rules, and while the presbytery's error in discounting the testimony of a fact witness on grounds that are not really relevant to the fact witness's role may be in some sense an understandable error under the circumcstances, it is still an error.

One question that the presbytery needed to consider was whether Stellman's witness or the defense's witness had a better understanding of Leithart's teachings.  While theologically training may not be entirely irrelevant to that question, having actually read what Leithart has written seems like a very important consideration, and Stellman's witness actually read what Leithart wrote.



Natamllc said...


have you taken a public position on the P. Leithart case?

What is your insight into the FV controversy? Do you see it as a cancer that is growing within the PCA and OPC?

After reading what you wrote above besides other verses, these verses seem apropos:

Pro 1:20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice;
Pro 1:21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
Pro 1:22 "How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
Pro 1:23 If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.
Pro 1:24 Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
Pro 1:25 because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof,
Pro 1:26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you,
Pro 1:27 when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.
Pro 1:28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Pro 1:29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
Pro 1:30 would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof,
Pro 1:31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.
Pro 1:32 For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them;
Pro 1:33 but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster."

And, after reading Stellman's link establishing the BCO's definition of who qualifies for being an "expert witness" in a Church court and why some are designated "expert" witnesses in a secular court, over at Greenbaggins; and, how Dr. Letham seemed to be caught flat footed during his testimony by Stellman, these verses, also, seem apropos, especially in light of how Lane Keister was treated during his testimony before the court:

Pro 16:19 It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Pro 16:20 Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.
Pro 16:21 The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
Pro 16:22 Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly.
Pro 16:23 The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
Pro 16:24 Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

Godith said...

When I saw the requests for funds to fly in expert witnesses, I began to detect a problem with the whole prosecution.
Leithart seems to be unbiblical, but the Lord did not bless the efforts of the defense, for one reason or another.