TVA lawyer grills expert in trial

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Spelling errors, other discrepancies the focus as attorney tries to discredit report


A TVA attorney worked doggedly to undermine the credibility of the other side’s expert witness during a grueling all-day cross examination Monday.

The results of his efforts were  mixed on Monday at the TVA ash spill trial.
TVA lawyer Mark Anstoetter grilled civil engineer Dan Marks for the entire session.

He raised questions about and sometimes directly cast aspersions on details of Marks’ reports, drawings he made in those reports, his calculations, his methodology and other aspects of his analysis — both major and minute.

The coal ash spill occurred at the Kingston Fossil Plant in December 2008, belching some 5.4 million cubic yards of wet coal ash into the Emory River and the vicinity.

Now 230 area residents are suing TVA in the civil trial.

Marks, a former University of Tennessee professor and now owner of Marks Enterprises, has filed reports and given testimony on behalf of the plaintiffs that the spill was primarily due to poor design and oversight in the north dike of Cell No. 2 of the fossil plant, where the collapse occurred.

TVA hired its own independent expert, the AECOM consulting firm and William Walton.
Walton’s conclusion was that the spill was the result of unstable soil beneath the Cell No. 2 foundation. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have charged that TVA brass heavily influenced Walton’s findings, which cast the spill as a no-fault scenario.

At times, Anstoetter seemed to have Marks on his heels, noting, for instance, an 8- to 10-foot misrepresentation of a 770-foot cross section of Cell No. 2.

The significance of such discrepancies and what role they played in Marks’ conclusion, however, wasn’t always clear.

At other times, it wasn’t evident who was on his heels, and who was coming out ahead in the exchange.

As the technical details piled up, the questions grew ever more convoluted, and Anstoetter seemed to attempt to juggle a need to stay within the bounds of his own technical limitations with a desire to make Marks stumble.

“I just want to know what it is you say I referenced, and where it is you say I referenced it?” Marks asked after one particularly unwieldly question.

One theme Anstoetter pursued throughout his cross examination was to point out spelling errors in Marks’ written reports.

“What grade would you give the person who reviewed these reports for spelling and obvious mistakes?” he asked Marks, after several such incidents.

“Pretty close to failure,” Marks said sheepishly, admitting he reviewed them himself. “I’d have to be honest with you.”

But Marks wasn’t hired for his spelling acumen, nor was he on trial for such.

TVA defense attorneys still have a long way to go to mitigate testimony received in the first week of trial, which included other expert witnesses, and pronouncements from TVA’s own Inspector General Richard Moore.