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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
Handwriting Expert Ethics & Responsibility for Forensic Document Examiners
Special Contribution by the Faculty of the International School of Forensics
A forensic document examiner is expected at all times to be: a non-advocate, non-bias, non-spurious, non-prejudice, impartial, skillful, informed, reputable, truthful, reliable, dedicated, publicized, thick-skinned, dynamic, qualified, an author, studious, competent, with integrity and wisdom, and of course ethical.
Operating in a judicial system that is dependent upon advocacy and a world full of wars and rumors of wars (that’s Biblical, huh), how do we reconcile the conflicts which confront us at our every move, every case, every relationship and the ever changing moral and ethical challenges? Especially now that we have taken on a new role as an expert, we are expected, even more, required, to be better. During the course of our expert QDE career, we will, indeed be in conflict with many of these ethical questions. Who defines or demands such requirements of you and your ethics? (more…)
HOW TO GET PAID FOR EXPERT SERVICES
When I started teaching and training individuals about how to become handwriting experts and document examiner experts I quickly realized that one could learn everything about analyzing, comparing, evaluating, peer reviewing, and testifying and still be a failure in the business of being an expert witness.
The most important issue after the education, training and experience is to get paid often and sufficiently enough to stay in business so you can help people who need you. Any expert who has been around long enough to have enjoyed some success has encountered the same old story over and over: “I will pay you later” or whatever the excuse may be. Remember, excuses satisfy only those who give them. Excuses do not pay our Google, Yellow Pages, postcard and advertising bills or feed our families.
I have even had clients ask me to front the plane fare and other expenses. Can you believe I did it — at least twice?? Wow. I sure have learned from my mistakes. You can now learn from mine two.
Often times the result of the case, whether a court case or a case of which employee gets fired for writing racial slurs on the bathroom wall, rests on our professional expert opinion testimony. It should be obvious to anyone with good common sense and adequate vision that experts can help win or lose a case. As a result of my expertise, I once helped a client get off death row. He has written me many letters of appreciation with much gratitude and I know he knows how important an expert can be to a cause or a case.
My attitude is strengthened every day about how valuable an asset an expert can be. In fact, I believe experts should get paid up front before their examination and always before any court testimony. This subject is a passion for my beautiful friend, Expert Rosalie Hamilton, who consults and coaches experts worldwide. In a recent letter from Expert Communication, Rosalie said “I feel that for experts, whose education and experience are significant enough to qualify them to assist the courts of our land in understanding the issues before them, to have to beg, cajole, renegotiate (bargain), institute collection procedures and even sue for their compensation is unseemly.”
You cannot survive in this business if you refuse to take a stand up front and demand payment before you begin your examination.
Early in my career, my staff and family watched me struggle for years with futile attempts to get paid after the job was complete. Accounts receivable. Now, we run our business by a specific set of policies which work well – like gravity – the same result every time.
Our new policy is that we do not examine a document unless we been paid for an examination, in full- up front. As a result of this new policywe now have little or no collection problem. The only exception to this policy is working with the State or City who have policies which pay 30-90 days. Of course, there are exceptions with less risk than normal but this course of action should only be followed after you acquire the experience and wisdom to discern good guys from the bad.
As an example, I just finished a case with one of the largest transportation companies in the state of Texas. The chief counsel called me and asked me to join him in a meeting with outside counsel (an attorney from one of the largest law firms in Dallas) concerning a forged document. The chief counsel discussed my fees during our initial phone call and then asked me to just bill him. After two meetings in their office, an examination of the questioned document and a notarized opinion letter, I simply billed them for my travel time, meeting time, mileage, and for the examination and subsequent opinion letter. My fee was paid within a week. Sometimes we do business on a handshake. But, it could back fire.
For me, the most important part about the collection process in this case was that I obtained an agreement up front that they would pay for my services. After that, they trusted me and I trusted them. We both were satisfied with the outcome and we completed our business feeling good about our professional relationship.
Remember, wise and experienced experts like Rosalie Hamilton agree, and I concur, Do Not provide an opinion, written or verbal, until you have been paid for your opinion. Let me give you one more example of how you must behave when forced with an emergency temptation to perform before you get paid: emulate my good friend from Oklahoma, Expert Brenda Petty, who never fails to follow her own policies. Brenda is one of the best experts in the South. Brenda met her client and attorney at the courthouse just in time for trail but Brenda had not been paid. Brenda’s client did not present Brenda with the payment before trial as agreed, so Brenda simply said, “I am out of here” and left the courthouse. Brenda’s client caught up with her just as she opened her car door, and paid her on the spot. Brenda testified – after she was paid.
Many experts require a client sign a contract before beginning work. I find this slows down the process and I have found no agreement or contract that fits every situation. Therefore, I seldom use a written agreement, but I do get a verbal agreement on price and method of payment before I issue a written report. We simply say, “We do not release the results of our examination until we receive payment. How would you like to pay?”
A written agreement is essential if you utilize a credit card to accept payment. Get a signature or the credit card company will always side with the card holder.
Remember, when people call or contact you they expect to pay and are aware that when they place an order, it is time to pay and/or make arrangements to do so. If you have trouble asking for payment for your services, please go to a McDonald’s and buy something. Watch how the high school kids ask for payment: no hesitation, no fear of rejection, no embarrassment, no debate, no offer to collect after you finish eating or drinking. It is a simple statement – “The amount of your order is $12.94. Is that cash or credit, please?”
Habits are the best of friends or the worst of enemies.
So establish your good habits up front and you will be a success.
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