For the reasons stated below, the judgment is reversed and the cause remanded for a new trial.
First, the State was allowed to cross-examine the expert concerning her testimony in a child custody case in the mid-1990’s in the State of Washington where the judge found the expert’s testimony not credible. The expert had been appointed as a guardian ad litem in a contested custody case involving four children. She opined that the children should go to the mother. The judge found the expert’s testimony not credible because the court determined that the expert had ignored testimony that the mother had physically abused the children.
The State contended that this was permissible because a party “may attack the credibility of a witness by . . . (2) Showing that the witness is biased.” § 90.608(2), Fla. Stat. (2008). We are unable to see any plausible argument that service as a court appointed guardian ad litem for four children approximately thirteen years previously demonstrates bias on the part of the expert in a Jimmy Ryce Act proceeding tried in 2008.
Second, the State was allowed to question the expert concerning $18,000 she paid in back payroll taxes to the IRS in the late 1980’s in relation to a for-profit hospital she and a business partner operated. There was a lawsuit between the partners. The trial court found her testimony not credible regarding a portion of the payroll taxes that had not been paid. This IRS-related cross-examination consumed three pages of transcript. The State argued that this cross-examination was a permissible inquiry into bias. We disagree. Again, this evidence concerned a purely collateral matter and admitting the evidence was error.
For the reasons stated, the judgment is reversed and the cause remanded for a new trial.
Rumpole opines: Judges need to read the evidence code and understand it and keep current on case law about rules of evidence. Judges are entrusted to be the gatekeepers of what a jury sees and bases their decision on.