One of the key skills of a forensic document examiner is giving a deposition and testimony. As part of the school program, you will have lots of practice before you have to give a real testimony in front of a real judge.
The important thing here to understand is this: you are often going to be smarter than some of the attorneys relating to the topic of forensic document examination. So, you might have to help them form questions before you take the stand.
Yes, attorneys are smart in their own right, but in this field, you are the expert. That’s why you’re sitting where you’re sitting in the courtroom. And you’re the one who needs to move the conversation forward.
Since you’re in charge of what comes out of your mouth during both the deposition and testimony process, it’s your responsibility to make sure you are prepared and stay calm. You will also want to chat with your attorney about how to properly get your demonstrative exhibits entered into the curt record – otherwise, the jury won’t have access to review them when they go into their jury room to deliberate the verdict.
Having a clear understanding of the trial process, and specifically, the deposition and testimony will position you as a professional in the forensic analysis field.
Bart Baggett Founder of the International School of Forensic Document Examination
Hi, this is Bart Baggett. I’m driving back from San Bernardino as I write this. Actually, I’m dictating this.
Today I went to San Bernardino to testify in a probate case where there was a handwritten will of an 80-year old woman, but in my opinion, was forged. I didn’t get to give that opinion because the opposing attorney had some very clever moves up her sleeve. Now, by clever moves I don’t mean that she was able to get me disqualified or make me look silly on the stand. She was able to not let me on the stand. After sitting for an hour while she offered a settlement to my client, she then finally asked the judge to continue the case for another month. The judge said, “Well why should I give you a continuance when the expert witness is sitting right here? It cost $1,000 to bring him back.” She responded to the judge, “Well, you let him have a continuance last month. You owe me a continuance.” And I’ll be darned if the judge didn’t grant her a continuance, send her expert witness away, and thus I was not allowed to testify today.
The back story is that the handwritten will was one of the worst forged wills I’ve ever seen. In fact, I discovered today that the writer of the forged will was in the courtroom. Her ex-husband looked at the will and said, “I recognize my ex-wife’s handwriting. She wrote the will…not the dead lady.” Now that, combined with my testimony, would have been quite strong if, of course, I was able to take the stand.
The one reason my client might decide to settle without calling me back is that he is not an attorney. He could not afford an attorney, and since it’s a civil case the state doesn’t give him one. So out of his own pocket he’s paid my company over $1,800 so far to prove the will is forged…which it is…and he risked the prejudice of the court ruling against him because he may not know the protocol to get an expert witness accepted, get evidence into admission, or even function normally in a trial. If you are an aspiring expert witness, realize that if your client is a pro se attorney, you are risking your credentials unless you are very experienced on the witness stand. I actually watched a seasoned, veteran expert witness get slaughtered because the pro se attorney was unable to ask basic questions such as, “What do you do?” … “Tell me how your training occurred.”… And “Why do you consider yourself an expert?” He was unable to articulate those questions and thus the expert was severely discredited because the pro se attorney was so inarticulate.
One of the things that you also need to be wary of with any testimony–especially expert witness testimony with a pro se attorney– is the Federal Rules of Evidence. You might want to familiarize yourself with the Federal Rules of Evidence 702 through 705 which talk about the admissibility of evidence that the expert witness relies on. In general, they give wide discretion on the judge allowing evidence into the court if the expert witness relies on that evidence. The problem is: If the evidence is “inadmissible” in another area, such as ‘the gun was found in the apartment but the search warrant wasn’t properly executed, so the gun is inadmissible’, but the opinion of an expert relies on the gun, the judge still may have that expert testify as to his opinion, but he may choose not to allow him to talk about the gun, because the jury would be tainted. So there’s a lot of room in the world of evidence for that.
In the case of expert witness, if you relied on the document to bring into the courtroom, you may have to produce that document a week ahead of the trial. Then, if you fail to produce that document on time for the opposing attorney to inspect, the judge may decide not to let you talk or render an opinion on it. Now, this is not common, but it has happened to me. When I went to court three weeks ago, the exhibits that I prepared were not allowed into evidence because the opposing attorney said he didn’t get them the night before. That’s silly, since that’s usually when I make my exhibits…the night before. But once in a while at trials, the exhibits aren’t allowed because the attorney didn’t follow the proper protocol. So as an expert witness you’ve got to be very wary of these things going wrong, and if you have a pro se client you have to do extra-careful mentoring to make sure he has the right questions.
In this case we actually sent our pro se client an e-mail, listing questions for him to ask: What is your name? What is your career? What do you do? How did you get trained? What are your credentials? Have you been on TV? This list of questions was in sequence for him so that he wouldn’t get up there and get tongue-tied. Unfortunately, he never got to ask those questions because the continuance was granted. So if he calls me back on the witness stand in a month, he would have to pay another $1,000.
To make the long story a little bit longer, or at least to wrap up this trial, the nice man who spent money because the caregiver of his sister decided to fake a will, will probably end up getting what is rightfully his. He’ll get the house, and he’ll get the car, and he’ll get other material items. The attorney showed up today with a settlement agreement which essentially admitted that they are willing to exclude the will. They didn’t admit to forging it, but they agreed to excluding it. Of course, the estate would go back to the will on file which was properly prepared and executed at an attorney’s office in 2004. Of course, that is fair, but in negotiations the caregiver, or the woman living with the decedent, wants the two dogs, the dishwasher, the couch, a lamp and all her clothes. Really, all her clothes and the two dogs!!! That is what they are negotiating and settling in the judge’s chambers at the courthouse as I speak.
So in conclusion, the life of this expert document examiner is very interesting. Sometimes it’s sad to see a woman that handwrites a will and signs a dead woman’s name to not get prosecuted for perjuryor forgery, and walks away with the two dogs…. but so is life.
“I totally recommend the International School of FDE to anyone who wants a new career in the field of forensic document examination.”
— Topanga Bird
If you’re interested in a new career, this short series of newsletters and blogs that I call Diary of a Forensic Document Examiner will help you decide if this field is right for you.
Like most working professionals, I often get inquiries from individuals that want to see if this is a career they could succeed in. While I take very few apprentices these days, I still enjoy teaching and sharing this science. ,
These simple diary emails will help you understand the ‘day in the life’ of an examiner.
Overview and Video Tour:
Testimony FORENSIC DOCUMENT EXAMINER DIARY ENTRY #43
I’m submitting this diary today via my iPhone record function as I drive home on the 101 in Los Angeles eating my Haagen Dazs Vanilla Chocolate Almond ice cream that I treated myself to because I just finished testifying in court… and I deserve a treat.
Court today was absolutely an amazing experience for me, as I was able to help someone who had been wronged… and make a difference.
Most cases do not fall into the category of the case I just testified in. Mainly, most cases which get to court have more exemplars to compare the purportedly “forged document” against.
In this case, I actually had six questioned documents and just one sample of the suspected forger and one sample of the victim of the forgery. Naturally, weeks ago, I determined there was indeed a forgery and now I am asked to identify the forger… with just one “smoking gun” of a handwriting sample.
After much lab time, my official opinion was that the person did not sign her own name on the Questioned six documents… a forgery did happen. Furthermore, the suspect they identified probably forged her signature on the six documents in question. This is rare when we identify the forger; in most cases, the criminal goes undetected. The handwriting, in this case, had many profound indicators pointing to this one guy.
So, I was driving to court this morning, a little nervous. According to the attorney who hired me, today’s court appearance is “just a prove-up hearing, it’s going to be really simple”.
I’ve learned that any time anyone tells you it’s going to be really simple… it ends up not being very simple. But in this case, the attorney was telling the truth, it was actually that simple.
I showed up and sat in the back row of the courtroom. I waited for the attorney to make opening remarks, talk to the judge, and iron out some details. The defendant actually didn’t even show up… but the hearing went forward anyway.
When it was my turn, I took the witness stand and stated my name, my occupation and the usual “swear in” procedure. Then, I answered some basic questions in regards to the documents analyzed and told the judge my official opinion.
The judge asked a few clarifying questions about how I got to my opinions and why I use ASTM guidelines when rendering an “official opinion”. Since I teach at the International School, those questions were easy to answer… as I have probably answered them for students a hundred times over the past few years. There is a protocol for everything we do and we follow a “system”… so explaining a system is quite easy, even to a judge sitting 2 feet above you in a black robe.
I have to tell you, I think I was on the stand maybe 25-30 minutes… at the very max. It was very easy. I guess what they say about being well prepared is true. Even though this was not my first time testifying in a court of law, I still was a bit nervous as I took the stand.
I felt good about my testimony, and I really felt a sense of “justice” identifying the person who forged this poor woman’s name on six contracts.
Before I left the building, I discovered something that really made me feel good. It isn’t often that testimony document examiners get confirmation that their opinion is 100% correct before we leave the courthouse. At most, we hear the judge agrees with us.
What I discovered is that the plaintiff had hired a private investigator and caught the guy “on tape” admitting he did indeed forge the documents. I was right, and there was an audio testimony to back me up. Whoo Whee! It’s good to be right and help right a wrong.
So today was a pretty amazing experience, Every time I go to court I learn that my role is just a small piece of a huge, giant legal puzzle that the attorney is putting together. It feels really good to know that I did my part to help the attorney make his case… and find justice for his client.
Not everyone is cut out to analyze forged documents or testify in court. Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed it would be me sitting on that witness stand earning over $1500 for my 30-minute testimony… but I did the training and now I’m that person.
If you’re interested in being a document examiner and you think that you have a good eye for detail and enjoy getting to the bottom of something, then look into this as a career for you.
If you’re interested, reach out to the people who helped me get started: The Faculty of the International School of Forensic Document Examination. They have an entire video series about all the aspects of this field and you can speak to their admissions team about if this a good career for you.
Beth Chrisman http://handwritingexpertcalifornia.com
As I said, I’m going to write more stories over the next few weeks…small clips from the life of an examiner.
The International School is the world where you can get trained and the only school where you will get help in launching a career as a certified document examiner with an apprenticeship that allows you to earn real income while you train.
It’s a unique opportunity, but it’s not for everybody. So please take time, watch the videos, explore the online website and call us with any questions before the next class starts.
Overview and Video Tour:
“First class people and first-class training. Bart and Beth were always there to support me and guide me to launch my document exam business. I deeply appreciate their unyielding support to me and my new career. I highly recommend their training.”
Paul Lockyer, Australia
On Dec. 1, 2010, a major change took effect in the federal rule governing expert witness reports, giving draft reports the protection of the work-product doctrine and exempting them from mandatory disclosure. At the time, attorneys and experts hailed the change as a long-overdue step that would reduce both the cost and contentiousness of litigation.
Now, having had six months to live with the new rule, the assessment of many attorneys and experts remains favorable but somewhat muted. While there is general agreement that the change was for the better and has simplified the process to a degree, most attorneys and experts report that the actual impact on their practices has been negligible. (more…)
Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took the gloves off in its defense against Paul Ceglia, a man that argues he owns half of the company over a 2003 contract.
The filing aims to expedite a discovery process that includes producing the original emails Zuckerberg allegedly signed, native digital copies of those documents and Ceglia’s computers. Facebook and Zuckerberg say in their filing that Ceglia is conducting fraud.
Related: Facebook: Ceglia claims ‘brazen and outrageous fraud’; Read the response Paul Ceglia vs. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg: Here’s the complaint and it’s a good read
Zuckerberg also denied he signed any contract from Ceglia and sent emails. “The evidence Defendants have gathered to date corroborates Zuckerberg’s sworn statements and confirms that Ceglia’s documents are forgeries,” said Zuckerberg and Facebook in a filing.
Among the key excerpts:
If you thought the recent George Clooney movie “Ides of March” made the political process seem a bit less than “ethical”… you should read about the reality of forged ballots in Indiana.
The signatures of dozens, if not hundreds, of northern Indiana residents were faked on petitions used to place presidential candidates on the state primary ballot in 2008, The Tribune and Howey Politics Indiana have revealed in an investigation.
Several pages from petitions used to qualify Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the state’s Democratic primary contain names and signatures that appear to have been copied by hand from a petition for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Schellinger. The petitions were filed with the Indiana Election Division after the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Office verified individuals’ information on the documents.
MOBILE, Ala. — The death last year of colorful Mobile County lawyer Joseph Brunson touched off a legal fight that has included accusations that another prominent local attorney helped create a phony will.
In a little more than a month, Mobile lawyer Richard Horne was repudiated by a jury reviewing the will; was hit with a $159,000 civil judgment over a loan default; filed for bankruptcy protection and was facing an ethics complaint made to the state bar.
It is a shocking turn for a man who has been a respected member of the city’s legal community for years, once serving on the bar’s ethics committee. His high-profile clients over the years have included former Orange Beach Mayor Steve Russo and former Prichard Mayor Jesse Norwood.
Mary Beth Mantiply, a Daphne lawyer who represented two of Joseph Brunson’s daughters, said she was slow to accept that the will was a fake.
“That was hard for me to believe because of Richard Horne,” she said.
Horne, a longtime friend of Brunson who helped the attorney get his law license back after a federal drug conviction, said the state bar’s confidentiality rules prohibit him from commenting.
The bar complaint, made by the stepfather of the women who contested the will in Mobile County Probate Court, accused Horne of perjury and accessory to forgery. He had 14 days to respond.
The will listed Judy Harold – Brunson’s “companion and life-long friend” as administrator and sole beneficiary of his estate. Horne and Pauline Phillips, who worked for the company that owned the building that housed Horne’s law practice, were listed as witnesses. Horne’s secretary, Megan Graham, notarized the document.
At a trial in Mobile County Probate Court, Mantiply presented evidence that the will was created on March 12, even though Brunson died on March 10. On Dec. 13, a probate court jury took less than an hour to rule that the document was a forgery.
Mantiply said that the role of Horne, Phillips and Graham are not in doubt.
“If that will was not created until two days after Joe died, and they said they were there when he signed it, that is perjury,” she said.
Harold’s attorney, Marion “Tut” Wynne, has asked Probate Judge Don Davis to throw out the jury’s verdict based on insufficiency of the evidence. The probate judge set a hearing for Feb. 22 to hear arguments on the matter.
Wynne could not be reached for comment.
If the verdict stands, Brunson’s estate would go to his children, under state law. Mantiply said it is unclear how much money remains in Brunson’s estate. Records show that Brunson gave Harold power of attorney over his finances two days before his death.
Mantiply said that Brunson was loaded with drugs and near death.
“I have no doubt he was incompetent when he signed that,” she said.
Brunson’s home and 5 acres on Fowl River – which was assessed for almost $300,000 for tax purposes but which Mantiply said could be worth more than twice as much – will now be available to his daughters.
David Stroecker, who married Brunson’s ex-wife and helped raise Katie Brunson and Micki Brunson with their mother, said the verdict offered something more valuable than money or real estate to two young women who had a strained and distant relationship with their father for much of their lives. “The real upside is that the two children have proof that their dad loved them,” he said.
Micki Brunson, a 21-year-old Auburn University student, said the fight over her father’s estate has heaped heartache on her and her sister, a 24-year-old fashion account executive in New York.
“It’s not anything I would ever wish on anybody, because it was awful,” she said.
Brunson’s death followed a brief bout with liver cancer and a lifetime filled with alcohol, drugs, women and fast living. He gained notoriety in the 1990’s when law enforcement authorities busted him with a sport utility vehicle full of marijuana.
His half brother and close friend, Murnie Raley, said Brunson was on his way to Dauphin Island to interview for a position as the town’s attorney. He said his brother started selling drugs to feed a cocaine habit.
Brunson spent about three years in federal prison and lost his law license for a time. When it came time to apply for reinstatement, it was Horne who helped make his case. Horne also rented Brunson office space as he tried to re-establish his law practice.
Even before Brunson died, Raley said, he and others began to grow concerned about the actions of Harold, whom they called an on-again, off-again girlfriend.
Mantiply introduced documents at the trial showing that Harold signed her last name as Brunson on funeral home documents. According to testimony at the trial, Horne made calls to marriage officials inquiring about marrying Brunson and Harold.
Raley said that Harold’s daughter performed a sort-of-marriage ceremony – with Brunson practically unconscious – the night before he died.
Raley said that when he went to his brother’s house the next day, his safe had been emptied. Harold testified that the safe contained old report cards of Brunson’s children, and other sentimental artifacts with no monetary value.
But Raley said his brother told him on the last day of hunting season – Jan. 31 – that the safe contained his will, two gold bars, gold coins, money, legal documents and other valuables. Raley said Brunson told him he wanted his house sold, with the profits distributed evenly among Katie, Micki, two daughters from other relationships and Harold’s granddaughter.
“He had a big soft spot for kids,” Raley said.
Handwriting, computer experts attacked fake will.
A Daphne lawyer who contested the will of a deceased attorney from Theodore used a handwriting expert, a computer analysis and the document itself to convince a jury the will was fake.
Joseph Brunson, who died inthe month of March after a brief battle with liver cancer, purportedly made the will a month earlier. It lists Brunson’s girlfriend, Judy Harold, as the administrator and sole beneficiary. Richard Horne, a prominent Mobile lawyer, is listed as a witness.
The handwriting expert, Curt Baggett, prepared a report concluding that Brunson’s signature on the will is a forgery.
Horne declined to comment, and Marion “Tut” Wynne, Harold’s attorney, could not be reached for comment.
Attorney Mary Beth Mantiply, who represented two of Brunson’s daughters at a trial in Mobile County Probate Court last month, also had the computer from Brunson’s office seized, and hired a computer expert to examine it.
The expert, Gus Dimitrelos, testified that the will was created on March 12, two days after Brunson died – not on Feb. 9, as it appeared. Dimitrelos testified that the person who drafted the will took elaborate steps to conceal the date on which the document was created.
But the kicker, Mantiply said, was the will, itself. She said the three-page document had numerous typographical errors – including the misspelled middle name of one of Brunson’s daughters.
“Joe wasan English major and had a photographic memory,” said Dave Stroecker, the stepfather of the women who contested the will.
Murnie Raley, Brunson’s half brother and close friend, said he and other relatives went to Horne’s office on March 12 to ask about funeral arrangements. When Brunson’s mother asked about a will, Raley said, Horne said he did not know if one existed.
Horne then asked his secretary, who brought a will to him, Raley said.
Raley said that Horne would not show the will to the family, but informed them that Brunson had left everything to Harold.
Mantiply said it was odd that Horne first claimed not to know if Brunson had a will, given that he ended up listed as a witness to the will.
Mantiply also pointed to inconsistent statements. She said that Pauline Phillips, the other witness to the will, said in a tape-recorded statement that only Brunson and Horne’s secretary were at her office when the will was signed and notarized.
By the time she testified at a deposition in October, however, she changed her story to match Horne’s, according to transcripts.
In his deposition, Horne testified that he did not prepare paperwork giving Harold power of attorney over Brunson’s finances. After Mantiply found a witness who said otherwise, Horne took the unusual step of submitting a correction to his deposition in December, less than two weeks before the probate trial.
In the revised statement, Horne said he realized his mistake during a review of his deposition and a conversation with Harold. He testified at the trial that his revision had nothing to do with the witness that Mantiply produced, according to a transcript of the proceeding.
Horne’s mounting financial problems
Mobile lawyer Richard Horne, who has come under fire for a will that a jury determined was a fake, has battled mounting financial problems over the past year.
Here is a summary of those troubles:
Feb. 10: Two federal tax liens totaling $53,819.71 are levied against Horne.
Aug. 3: Baldwin County Circuit Judge J. Lang Floyd awards $4,985.16 plus interest to Citibank for an unpaid credit card bill issued to Horne’s wife, Patricia.
Aug. 11: Baldwin County Circuit Judge Robert Wilters awards Citibank $5,111.27 for an unpaid credit card bill issued to Patricia Horne.
Sept. 17: Richard Horne signs a “deed in lieu of foreclosure,” in which he agrees to give up his home on Main Street in Montrose. That same day, Citibank wins a default judgment in the amount of $4,400.50 plus court costs over failure to make payments on a credit card.
Sept. 22: NSA Agencies, which owns the building at 261 N. Joachim St. in Mobile where Horne had a second-floor law office, files a lawsuit in Mobile County Circuit Court. The suit accuses Horne of breaking the lease and failing to pay $26,400 in rent.
Dec. 27: Chief U.S. District Judge William Steele awards Wells Fargo $159,880 plus interests and attorney fees over a pair of loans that Horne defaulted on.
Jan. 5: Horne’s home in Daphne is sold for $165,000 in a public auction following a foreclosure.
Jan. 10: Horne files for bankruptcy protection, claiming assets of $461,604 and debts of $1.046 million. The bankruptcy halts all debt collection by Horne’s creditors while he works out a repayment plan.
More Article here: www.marybethmantiply.com
A forged will sends Jack Kerouac scholars, fans, collectors, literary executors, and lawyers on the warpath.
When Jack Kerouac died, wallowing in alcohol and obscurity, the bank estimated his estate’s value at $91. He left everything to his mother, and when she died, she left it to Kerouac’s third wife, Stella Sampas—or so everyone believed. A Florida court ruled Gabrielle Kerouac’s will a forgery. But thanks to an earlier summary judgment, the $20 million estate, which Stella’s family inherited after her death, is staying put.
When Kerouac’s disowned daughter Jan saw the will, she immediately suspected it was a forgery. “It was all weird and scraggly and misspelled,” she told the Telegraph. But Jan died before the case could be resolved, and a judge issued a ruling legitimizing the Sampas family’s claim. Only then did Kerouac’s nephew turn up with a letter in which the late author said he didn’t want to leave “a dang blasted, fucking, goddamn thing to my wife’s one hundred Greek relatives.” It was too late; the ruling stands.
When Jack Kerouac wrote his will shortly before his death in 1969, he was broke. Forty years later a ferocious battle raged over his multi-million dollar literary estate. Kerouac, at odds with his third wife, Stella Sampas, had left everything to his mother, Gabrielle Kerouac. But when Gabrielle Kerouac passed away in 1973, her will indicated that the entire estate would go to Sampas…news that had shocked Kerouac’s remaining blood relatives…his daughter Jan, and his nephew Paul Blake Jr. When Sampas died in 1990, her siblings inherited the Kerouac literary estate, with the youngest brother, John Sampas, acting as executor. It was a stunning series of events for Kerouac scholars and fans, but the real surprise was yet to come…a judge in Tampa, Florida ruled that Gabrielle Kerouac’s 1973 will was a forgery.
Gerald Nicosia, author of the acclaimed Kerouac biography, Memory Babe, first suspected foul play in 1994, when Jan Kerouac saw a copy of the will for the first time and noticed that her grandmother’s name was misspelled.
“We are dealing with perhaps the most influential American novelist of the twentieth century, after all, and it is now proven that his $30 million estate was stolen, plain and simple,” said Nicosia.
The Sampas family was not directly involved in the hearing, but John Sampas disagreed with the verdict.
“We do not believe the will of Gabrielle Kerouac was forged and do believe the judge based his ruling on fictitious accounts by a doctor who never met Gabrielle Kerouac,” he wrote in an email.
For Paul Blake Jr., ho rarely speaks publicly, the court decision must offer some consolation. He has long claimed that his Uncle Jack posted him a letter the day before he died in which the famous author wrote, “I’ve turned over my entire estate to Memere (Mummy), and if she dies before me, it is then turned over to you, and if I die thereafter, it all goes to you.” Kerouac’s letter said he wished to leave it “to someone directly connected with the last remaining drop of my direct blood line … and not to leave a dang blasted, fucking thing to my wife’s one hundred Greek relatives … just telling you the facts of how it is.” The letter, dated October 20, 1969, and addressed to “My little Paul,” also declares that Kerouac was intending to divorce his wife (indeed, he had already begun divorce proceedings) and concludes, “I want you to know that even if you’re a crazy nut, you can do anything you want with my property if I kick the bucket, because we’re of the same blood.”
Blake, who was desperate for money, sold that letter to art dealer Alan Horowitz in order to make ends meet. Horowitz then sold the letter to the New York Public Library, where it remains to this day in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature. The Sampas family insisted the letter itself was a forgery, and Gabrielle’s will remained unchallenged for more than two decades. In 1994, after Jan Kerouac first noticed the misspelling on Gabrielle’s will, she then took a trip to Florida to interview the surviving witness to the will and filed a lawsuit. Blake was missing at that time and so he could not join her. Before the case made it to court, Jan died from kidney failure in 1996.
Following Jan’s death, Blake was the only known surviving Kerouac blood relative. He pressed forward with the forgery case. During this time, Blake was in a bad way, often homeless, struggling with alcoholism and poverty. This meant that his lawyer, Bill Wagner, later joined by his son Alan, were not only at the forefront of an extensive probate battle, but for a great deal of this time they were unable to even locate their client. Despite these obstacles, the ruling in July 2009 by Judge George W. Greer in the sixth Judicial Circuit Court in Tampa, Florida declared that the original will was not signed by Gabrielle Kerouac, and was therefore a forgery.
Greer, in an eleven-page statement, stressed “Gabrielle Kerouac was not a well woman when her purported will was signed; she could only move her hand and scribble her name. She would have lacked coordination to affix that signature.” This raises the question: who forged the document, and why? Greer refused to explore that possibility, stating that the Court was not required to determine whose signature it was, but “It is enough that Gabrielle Kerouac did not herself sign it.” According to John Sampas, though, “Judge Greer based his decision on fiction; his hearing was a charade, a kangaroo court.”
Given the July 2009 decision, it may seem surprising that so few of Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation friends and acquaintances advocated for a closer look at Gabrielle’s will. Dadait poet and friend of Jan Kerouac, Carl Macki, explained that as Jan became more passionate and determined to proceed with her legal case, she had also “grown increasingly defiant towards the Sampas family and those close friends of her father who betrayed her in the struggle over the will of her grandmother.” In fact, as Jan was preparing her case against the Sampas family in the early 1990s, Allen Ginsberg told the writer Aram Saroyan that Jan’s appeal was fruitless, that he personally had spent “several days researching” the charges and found no basis in Jan’s opposition. This view was backed up by the majority of the Beats, with the exception of the poet Gregory Corso, who was one of the few who signed a petition to enable Jan to speak at a Kerouac conference in New York in 1995. As it turned out, she wasn’t granted permission and was thrown out of the conference when she approached the microphone to say a few words about the value of preserving her father’s original papers.
Some Kerouac scholars attribute this to the power and influence of the Sampas family, who have watched the value of the Kerouac estate increase exponentially. Brenda Knight, author of Women of the Beat Generation, said she believes that many of Jack Kerouac’s friends “were worried about getting ‘blacklisted’ in an unofficial way.” The Sampas family owned “one of the most valuable literary estates in the world,” she said, and could be a powerful force that a less commercially successful writer or poet might not want to provoke.
Perhaps many of these writers were afraid to align themselves with the daughter of Jack Kerouac, especially when he himself had only seen his daughter twice in his life. Nicosia recalled specific examples of inaccurate stories he believed were “placed by the Sampas family,” including a story in the Boston Herald about Jan being an “illegitimate daughter.”
Sampas, however, believes he has been mischaracterized. In a previously published interview, he said, “I’m a nobody. They make me out to be some powerful Mafia character. I’m just Jack Kerouac’s brother-in-law.” More recently, he reacted to Nicosia’s claims by retorting “Nicosia is a well known ‘nut case’ who has been stalking the Kerouac estate for years.”
One can only guess at how things might have evolved had the will not been forged, but it’s likely that Jan would have had money to treat her health problems, and Blake might have avoided homelessness and poverty. Before the forgery verdict, Blake himself couldn’t understand why his beloved grandmother Gabrielle wouldn’t have provided for him in her will. At the very least, Blake thought he would have received a baseball card game his uncle made, which they often played together. The Sampas family have repeatedly said they would have gladly helped Blake with money if he had asked them directly instead of pressing ahead with Jan Kerouac’s court case.
For sure, there was a lot of money to go around. In the early nineties when John Sampas took over the estate from Stella, he enlisted the help of Massachusetts bookshop owner Jeffrey Weinberg to value Kerouac memorabilia, including letters, signed editions, and drafts. According to Weinberg, Sampas told him, “I want to turn some of this stuff into cash.” And they did. To the consternation of some Kerouac fans, at the height of Kerouac’s popularity, actor Johnny Depp dropped more than $40,000 on various Kerouac items, including a trench coat, a hat, and a suitcase when he visited the Kerouac estate. Then, in 2001, the Sampas family sold the original scroll of what many consider Kerouac’s masterpiece, On The Road, to James Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, for $2.43 million.
The sell-off to private collectors explains why some scholars and fans have negative feelings about the Sampas family. Nancy Grace, author of Jack Kerouac and the Literary Imagination (2007), said, “Many Kerouac scholars have long thought that John Sampas was milking the estate for every penny he could get and that he didn’t care about genuine scholarship at all, or Kerouac for that matter.”
Even more frustrating for scholars has been the loss or lack of access to several items, such as the original scroll of On The Road—which has been shipped around the world in a locked glass case—or any complete draft of The Dharma Bums, Big Sur, and Vanity of Duluoz, all of which have either been sold to private collectors or remain unaccounted for. Ann Charters, author of the first biography of Kerouac, explained, “I don’t think Kerouac’s unpublished papers should be sold off to private collectors; they should be made available to scholars ASAP.” She added that his “nonconformist style of writing his fictional autobiography makes it imperative for scholars to have access to the ‘first draft’ manuscripts.”
None of the items listed above appear in the Berg Collection at NYPL, which purchased close to 2,000 Kerouac documents from John Sampas for an undisclosed sum in 2001. Kerouac scholars say the Berg Collection, while deeply impressive, has some major gaps. There is nothing at all on Big Sur, and the original On the Road is, well, on the road. However, Isaac Gewirtz, curator of the Berg Collection, claimed, “98% of what survives of his writing, not including correspondence, is here and is available for study.” (An exhibition of the Jack Kerouac Archive ran from November 2007 to March 2008, and an illustrated exhibition catalogue showing the breadth of the materials is available.)
What exactly remains of the Kerouac estate is a closely guarded secret. Apparently, the Sampas family keeps the archive in a bank vault, available only to hand-picked scholars and biographers such as Douglas Brinkley, author of the unfinished and unpublished official Jack Kerouac biography, which was cancelled by Penguin after Brinkley failed to deliver the book in time for the 50th anniversary of On The Road. Rumors circulated following Penguin’s decision to cancel the book that Sampas planned to write the official biography himself. When questioned about it, Sampas declared that of all the Kerouac biographies available, “none are of any quality.”
The recent court decision seems favorable for Blake, who currently lives in a small cabin in Arizona with his family. His lawyers, Bill and Alan Wagner, aren’t convinced. Alan Wagner confessed, “What happens next is uncertain,” adding that it might still be quite some time before Blake sees any money from the estate, if at all. The Wagners are veteran Tampa attorneys who specialize in personal injury cases; they are not Kerouac fans, had never read his books, and claimed they had to research him before they agreed to take the case. Sampas has dismissed Bill Wagner as “corrupt.”
The Sampas family has already launched a number of appeals. In a recent email, Sampas wrote, “We did not inherit from Gabrielle’s will, we inherited from Stella’s will; no one has a legal claim against me.” He also made a brief statement to recapitulate a 2004 court ruling based on Florida inheritance law that “bars Mr. Blake from seeking any assets or items which came to us through Stella Sampas Kerouac’s estate; the practical effect of this ruling appears to be none.” In short, there is no turning back the clock and reclaiming assets for what has already been sold.
The royalties from Kerouac’s books—which generate a good income—continue to go to the Sampas family. On The Road alone sells upward of 60,000 copies a year. The Wagners are seeking to challenge the state inheritance law with federal copyright law in an attempt to obtain a fair share of the royalties for Blake.
Legal experts predict Blake may be entitled to a third of what is left of the Kerouac estate, but fighting the loopholes in the convoluted legal documentation and fighting the Sampas’ may prove a lengthy and difficult process. Alan Wagner explained, “It is not known what happened to all of Jack Kerouac’s assets and how they were distributed or transferred. All efforts to date to learn that information have been resisted by the Sampas’. ” He further detailed their ongoing attempt to get the current Kerouac estate valued independently before planning their next move, stressing that “Paul has said he doesn’t expect to get any money, but merely wants to set the record straight.”
It’s possible the Sampas family have very few assets left from the vast estate they inherited. “They sold hundreds, probably thousands of pieces, of Kerouac’s archives to collectors all over the world. We’ll never see most of that stuff,” Nicosia said. And if it is true that the Berg Collection has 98% of Kerouac’s writing, Blake would be lucky to see even a handful of his uncle’s papers.
Blake enjoyed a close relationship with his famous uncle. From all accounts, he isn’t searching for fame or fortune. As his lawyer put it, “Paul Blake is a very private person, but I can tell you that having spoken to him after the decision (that the original will was a forgery),he was very happy about it and pleased with the court’s findings.” Nicosia also spoke to Blake on the phone the day after the decision. He said Blake told him, “When I heard the news, I felt good for the first time in years.”
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The U.S. real estate market is in a downward spiral of foreclosures, fraud and government bailouts. This is affecting economies across the world, and it’s affecting individuals in the business of forensic document examination. How it affects us is the topic of today’s interview. Today I interviewed a man named Steve Vondren, who is an attorney specializing in real estate law and foreclosures. Well, actually he interviewed me on his internet radio show. If you’re in real estate or the handwriting business or just curious about the foreclosure mess and the fraud factories popping up around America, listen to this show. There are a lot of facts, a lot of figures, and a lot of exact names of companies which actually committed fraud in the tune of billions of dollars by creating falsified documents, loan transfer documents, trust deeds, and simply forging people’s names. It’s a fascinating interview which you will enjoy whether you are in the forensic documents exam business, a real estate investor or simply own a house with a mortgage.
In the current foreclosure environment, lenders and loan servicers are still hoping to keep a lid on the false signatures, notary fraud, and other foreclosure-gate issues. They are hoping no one will challenge false signatures. Well, our guest Bart Baggett, a forensic document examiner, will discuss what’s going on in the real estate industry.