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How do you measure an expert? By the yardstick, of course

Columnist Dan Conradt says when called to give testimony on how he assessed the depth of the snow, he'd like to think he measured up.

Dan Conradt column sig
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“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

I was surprised by how nervous I felt. I’d spent hundreds of hours covering court proceedings from the press gallery. But I’d never actually been part of one until now.

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I tried to stop my raised right hand from shaking, but it must have looked like I was waving at the judge.

“I do.”

“Please say and spell your full name.”

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I wasn’t sure if that included my middle name or not, but I decided to err on the side of caution: “Daniel Michael Conradt”, and I spelled all three of them.

“Thank you, Mr. Conradt. Please take a seat.”

It was the kind of case that made “Judge Judy” a fixture of daytime television – a man had slipped and fallen on a snow-covered sidewalk outside a local business. His injuries weren’t serious, but he claimed the store owner had plenty of time to clear the sidewalk after the snow had stopped, and that his failure to do so contributed to the fall.

The injured man wanted the store owner to pay his medical expenses.

The subpoena had arrived in my mail a few weeks earlier; it didn’t exactly call me an “expert witness,” but that’s what they would have called me on “Law And Order.”

I was on a first-name basis with the attorneys in the case and liked them both; we shared a common disappointment with the Twins and frustration with the Vikings.

“Mr. Conradt,” the injured man’s attorney began, “would you tell the court where you are employed and give a brief explanation of your job duties.”

In a one-man department, “radio station news director” was a more grandiose title than the job deserved, so I tried to make my answer sound like court testimony and not a job interview.

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“And as part of your duties, do you oversee hourly weather observations?”

“I do.”

“Could you tell the court how those observations are made?”

I’d come to court with the daily weather log requested in the subpoena, and explained that the disc jockey on duty would record things like temperature, wind speed and direction, and rain or snowfall amounts at the top of each hour.

“And could you explain how you determine snow depth?”

“We take a yard stick outside and poke it in the snow in a couple of places where the snow isn’t drifting and come up with an average of those depths.”

“And could you tell the court what your records indicate for the hours of snowfall and the snowfall amounts on the date of …” and he named the date of The Fall.

I summarized that day’s weather, trying to strike a balance between “concise” and “wordy”.

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“No further questions, Your Honor.”

The business owner’s attorney tapped a pen on a yellow notepad. He had a “Gotcha!” smile on his face and stopped just short of saying “Aha!”

On “Perry Mason” this would have been the point at which a matronly woman wearing a snood would jump to her feet and shout “Yes! Yes! I can’t take it any more … I did it!” or a sleazy looking nightclub owner would try to slip out the back door of the courtroom, only to be intercepted by a paunchy security guard.

“You poke a yardstick into the snow to measure the depth?” I’d never heard the word “yardstick” pronounced with such disdain. If we’d been talking in the hallway I might have responded with something ambiguous like “Dude.”

Since I was under oath, I tried to sound judicial: “Yes, sir, that’s correct.”

“And where do you generally take those readings?”

“In the parking lot.”

“That doesn’t sound very scientific.”

“It’s the method the National Weather Service recommends,” I explained.

“No further questions, Your Honor.”

“The witness is excused,” the judge said.

Wait … what? That’s it? Four minutes, including the time it took to spell my name. On Monday morning the attorneys and I had spent more time than that commiserating about a Viking loss to the Bears.

Still, it was long enough to justify adding “expert witness” to my resume.

And that’s nothing but the truth.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.

Related Topics: PEOPLEDAN CONRADTAUSTIN
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