The purpose of this blog is not to do a history of the field of Questioned Documents. That is comming later. I merely want to do a brief over view of what books were available from the 1850’s on when document cases started showing up in court.

Long before Albert S. Osborn’s “so called” classic text “Questioned Documents” published in the 1920’s, there were many authors who wrote excellent books-Saudek-Aimes, Ainsworth, Hagan, just to name a few.  A detailed history of all this will appear in my soon to be published book. Detailing that history is not my point here-dispelling they myth among many lawyers that it all started with Albert S. Osborn, is

Albert Osborn’s book gained some notoriety back then because of his participation in the Lindburg Baby kidnapping trial even though he was one of 8 other experts, all long forgotten.

However, today, Osborn’s book has little application in many areas of Questioned Documents-Few people today use fountain pens(the ball point had not been invented in his time) nor do many use actual typewriters. Therefore, most of the disputed documents in Osborn’s time were prepared with a typewriter and signed with a fountain pen and all the interesting nuances that went with these things. Current document examiners seldom have such cases but instead must deal with ball points, felt pens and a myriad of writing instruments, each with their own peculiar set of problems that can hinder the analysis.

Photography was a new tool in the 1850’s and into the early 1900’s in document cases and proved helpful but by the 1940’s Osborns knoweldge of photography as it related to Questioned Documents was far surpassed, in my opinion by Charles Scott in his Three Volume treatise on photogaphy- “Photographic Evidence” And today, Scott has been surpassed by digital photography which has even surpassed the excellence of large format cameras in the detail they can capture. Spy Sattaalites measure pictures today in Gigapixels, not Mega pixels as our flimsy cameras have.

Osborn taught Penmanship which is how he learned about handwriting and was never trained by anyone else being self-taught. But a contemporary at the time, Robert Saudek in his landmark book(cited in my United Secret Service Questioned Documents Training Course in 1983, almost 60 years after it was written, as “the best book every written on the subject of handwriting” by one of the instructors) “Experiments with Handwriting”, based on extensive research he did himself. His book demonstrated knowledge of handwriting far superior to that of Osborn, and others then and now, in my opinion.

A word about Saudek. The poor man died at age 55 of a septic ulcer. He would have lived to a longer age for his time in the 1950’s, but up until his death he had written ONE HUNDRED AND SEVEN scientific treatises on various topics, but mostly on handwriting. Including extensive writing on the subject of grapholoogy which he claimed was as scientific as questioned documents. The man was a total genius.

Before one get’s the impression that I am saying Osborn’s book is a waste of time, nothing could be further from the truth because it is still held as an authority and a documents examiner must be familiar with it, lest he be questioned on the stand about its concepts. We still have to follow his advice in doing our cases and testifying because of its authoritative status and the many sound principles stated therein about  scientific report writing and testifying.

The other leading text in the field in the 1950’s was Wilson Harrison’s “Disputed Documents”, again, in my opinion superior to Osborn’s book. Harrison was a Document Examiner for Scotland Yard for many years and sets forth many important principles in the field, Osborn does not though there is strong agreement.

So in summary about “authoritative” text books(and remember, there are many excellent books on handwriting and questioned documents, as good, if not better than those cited, but that are simply not considered authoritative because many experts are not familiar with them) there are other generally accepted texts; For example, Ordway Hilton’s text: “The scientific Examination of Questioned Documents” is one such text. He was another self-taught expert who passed no training program. Though an experienced expert must be aware of this text as it is often used in court by experts, myself included, to impeach experts,  it ranks below Osborn in knowledge of handwriting, in my opinion, so will not add a great deal to one’s knowledge of the field.  In summary, if one were to begin their study of the field, with Saudek and Harrison, one could not go wrong to get good knowledge of the field as a starting off point to pursue a possible career.

Simply mastering these books, though will not qualify you as an expert which leads us, finally to the subject of this blog-available training programs in the field of Questioned Documents available to the average person. The short answer is-there aren’t any. Government training programs are restricted to government and as yet, there are no full time college level programs that teach one how to be a document examiner from A-Z, indeed a daunting task. Some forensic science programs such as those at George Washington University and John Jay College offer ONE course in Questioned Documents-hardly enough to teach anyone, even the basics. One would be better off just studying Saudek and Harrison thoroughly and outlining them on 3X5 cards as I did, carrying them w/me everywhere I went for when i had that free moment where I could read and re-read them.

My goal is to change all that and establish a full time college level program in Questioned Documents available to any interested student. The government needs to get out of the field of training in Questioned Documents, because of the many restrictions it places on that training preventing anyone interested in learning the field. This is done for one reason only, in my opinion-having first hand experience in this regard: Government trained experts make huge amounts of money compared to privately trained examiners.  My own experience is that in the five years prior to attending the United Secret Service Questioned Docuements Course, my private practice increased by 50%. In the five years after, it went up 650%. That is a crystal clear indication of why government experts do not want this training available to private examiners-their incomes would take a huge hit and perhaps it should.  One example is a Document Examiner by the name of Gus Lesnevich who has been paid millions of dollars by the tax payers in no-bid contracts doing work for agencies that already have full time Document Examiners employed there. But remember, the training they received was free to them and paid for by the tax payers-Ie you and me. This is why I have consistently taken the position that any government expert who intends to go into private practice using training they received from the tax payers, those tax payers should be reimbersed for the coast of that training as I did. I took my own vacation time and paid for the Secrete Service Course myself, knowing it would enhance my private practice when I left the state.

So let us dream for a moment and imagine what a proper training program in Questioned Docuements should be.

When I began to fashion a course merely based on Saudek and Harrison,(and a select few more) I soon realized that a two year program with three courses a semester(15-lectures and 15 labs per semester) would be rudimentary and would not even scratch the surface of what we encounter as “complex” document problems. For example: How many lectures would it take for the student to master the effect of “Parkinson’s Disease” on the handwriting or Alzheimers or MS and on and on. Remember, when we encounter a disputed document our ultimate task is to distinguish between “indicia of forgery” and all other reasonable and alternate explanations for those differences. As stated before, everyone of the so called “indicia of forgery” can be caused by something else whether  it be an illness, injury, medications, unusual writing conditions, faulty pen and on and on.

Many “forgery” issues arise, not because the document is actually forged, but because someone is seizing   upon unexplained differences to CLAIM “forgery”, either to avoid responsibility for the agreement, overturn the will and on and on. As Harrison clearly states, and I have touched on here, there are MANY cases where there are consistent, unexplained differences between disputed and known signatures that DO NOT indicate “forgery”, yet there is no dirth of unqualified and inexperienced experts today who are perfectly willing to make the argument these differences are clearly evidence of forgery-either because they are totally ignorant of the field or blatantly dishonest and ignore alternate explanations for the differences, hoping no one will uncover their deception. Unfortunately there are also some attorneys who will  allow them to make those arguments either because they are also ignorant of what is involved or are perfectly wiling to ignore what they suspect may be facts against them. After all, to some, winning is the goal no matter how the win is obtained and it is often impossible to prove what is going on.

Now from the beginning of the field in the late 1800’s and early 1900.s most experts were largely self-taught based on the information that was available and, as Saudek did, what research they did on their own but as stated, things have changed and as implied, not necessarily for the right reasons with regard to training.

The coveted “Two Year Apprenticeship Training” program in Questioned Documents is now the requirement-a requirement put in place, as I alueded to before, by those seeking to protect their income in private practice, under the guise of advancing the field in my opinion-not to make excellent training available to any qualified student seeking to enter the field but instead to restrict the field so they can make more money. And with the ruling in The Estate of Florence Kruzek out of Chicago recently, the court has now required “hands on”training as a requirement. The ABFDE will surely argue that the ONLY place to get “hands on” training is in a government lab under an experienced government examiner, though the court does not specifically say that.

A search on the “net’ of “Two Year Apprenticeship Programs  in Questioned Docuements” reveals as many different programs as those who claim to have completed them and so far-none of the programs I have found even comes close to complying with all local, state and federal laws regulating “Apprenticeship Programs” My wife works as a counselor in a vocational technical school and when I asked to see a copy of just New Jersey’s regulations regarding such programs, they were an inch thick.

A dear friend and colleague in a very high position in a state education program who has a Masters in Education and works teaching college professors how to write college text books, among his many other tasks, tells me that the “science” behind teaching someone a skill so that they will learn it and be able to apply it, is known as “Bloom’s Taxonomy”, concepts well established in the higher education field. A simple explanation might be, for example that if I wanted to write a text book for a junior high school class, that text would be markedly different in how I might treat the same subject for a college level class-the words and sentences I would use-even the proper choice of verbs, for example, will impact on how much the student is able to learn from reading that book and all of this has been the subject of extensive educational research.

So my point is–you don’t just sit down and decide to write a text book or course. You MUST follow Bloom’s Taxonomy lest you be roundly criticized in the educational community.

Yet this is the very situation we have in the field of Questioned Documents-experts in QD who are NOT experts in education, with a goal to protect their income in private practice by requireing courses of private examiners that don’t even come close to, not only complying with the applicable laws, but the science of education.

The goal of my colleague Nick Montano and I will be to change all that.

And as alluded to above, a recent court ruling requires “hands on” training by an experienced Document Examiner in an actual document lab to qualify the witness. The witness who attempted to qualify in that case, did not receive that training from Kathy Koppenhaver, according to the court and was found incompetent to testify.

We will comply with that ruling and will continue to push for a college level program in QD available to ANYONE regardless of race, colr or creed as the law says.

Wish us luck

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  1. aRealFDE says:

    You are a real worry!!! Oh, and I do hope Nick has superior spelling and grammar skills.

    • admin says:

      Sorry-it goes w/my severe hydrocephalaus. Although I have an IQ of 133, spelling is a skill I never aquired. I just feel the content is more important. It is just a blog afterall, not a published treatise which would be professionally edited. I have received over 2500 nice responses and it is hard to keep up so something has to be sacraficed. But I wil try to do better. Thanks, RJP

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