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Forensic Document Examiners Dispute Subject of Libel Suit

An accredited forensic document examiners’ association has filed a libel suit over a law journal article which it says defamed its members’ professionalism.

The lawsuit underscores a long-running competition between two small and specialized groups: the Board of Forensic Document Examiners (BFDE) and the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE).

The subject of the libel lawsuit, transferred this month to Chicago, is a single article that appeared last summer. Titled “Forensic Handwriting Comparison Examination in the Courtroom,” it was published in August 2015 in The Judges’ Journal, a publication of the American Bar Association, one of the defendants.

The article was written by Thomas Vastrick, a Florida-based document examiner who is a member of the ABFDE.

The BFDE and its members allege in their suit that the article attempts to discredit their organization in the eyes of the readership, many of whom are judges that function as evidentiary gatekeepers under Daubert and other case law.

The BFDE and ABFDE are in open competition.

Both groups were accredited by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) about a decade ago.

But there are distinct differences: the BFDE is much smaller, having 14 certified “diplomates,” the majority of which have been trained and work in the private sector. The ABFDE, on the other hand, has 150 “diplomates,” most of which have been trained and worked in the governmental sphere.

The litigation, which was initially filed in August, alleges that Vastrick erroneously touted the ABFDE as the “only certification board recognized by the broader forensic science community,” and intended to cast aspersions on the BFDE training model.

“The language used in the Vastrick Article evidences an aggressive marketing strategy directed at existing and potential customers of FDE services that is designed to drive the BFDE as well as the individual BFDE Diplomates out of the relevant marketplace by means of false and deceptive commercial advertising,” the lawsuit argues.

“Under the guise of offering tools to be used by trial judges in evaluating the expertise of a proffered expert in forensic document examination, (the article) makes numerous false and misleading factual statement regarding how to differentiate between ‘true professionals’ and ‘unqualified’ or ‘lesser qualified’ practitioners,” the suit adds.

Vastrick declined comment, and pointed toward an attorney on the matter.