Ron Emmons, chair of the IAI questioned document committee and fellow graduate of the United States Secret Service Questiond Document Course, in the Feb/March 2010 issue of the International Association for Identification-Identification News, states the following: “Regardless of what academic accomplishments a person has achieved, he or she has to complete a minimum of two years of training to become a forensic documents examiner” This article is a reiteration of an earlier article where he addresses the subject in greater detail. In compliance with a recent court ruling-Estate of Florence Kruzek-Cook County No 2011 P 1312, that training MUST be “hands on”. One can infer from that, it must be by an experienced Document Examiner, in an approved lab though no objective standard has been established by the courts that would be fair. The ABFDE has set forth requirements regarding government labs, but paradoxically have included of private examiners such as John Paul Osborn. This, in my opinion, is yet another example of the double standard set by the ABFDE to preseerve the income of its members when they go into private practice.
In an earlier issue Oct/November 2009 Emmons speaks at great length of various groups whom judges have qualified in court as Document Examiners in legal proceedings to assist the court on document issues. One group he neglects to mention are bankers who according to Federal Rules have attained considerable experience in the comparison of handwriting and have been of great assistance to the courts in banking cases since they have more knowledge in these matters than the judge and jury.
In the Oct/Nov 2011 issue of the same publication, Deborah Leben, First Vice-President in her article: “Ethics and Professional Responsibility” states we must ALL strive to improve knowledge, skill and abilities within your respective discipline which can be inferred to mean quality education.
I would, therefore, like to address these comments in great detail when it comes to training in the field of Questioned Documents.
Ron’s comment about a training “program” implies an organized course of study that is designed for the purpose of training a document examiner to be competent to work on a full time basis in the field of Questioned Documents that is in accordance with prevailing scientific authority and case law. It is really quite simple, yet carrying out the process can be quite complex. If the prevailing scientific authority, as found in the works of Wilson Harrison, Ordway Hilton, Albert S. Osborn, Hanna Sulner and Robert Saudek is followed to the letter, a document examiner WILL reach accurate opinions 99% of the time. If that authority is recognized by the expert and NOT followed, it will result in impeachment unless it can be shown that the experts opinion is a result of new research done after the time of these authorities, which has been successfully published in peer review journals that have confirmed in repeated experiments the accuracy of the new technique used.
Ron does not use the term apprenticeship in this particular article but he has used it elsewhere as has former President Mr. Sanfilippo meaning that part of the “program” MUST include an apprenticeship with a qualified document examiner on a full time basis for two years. The Kruzek Court merely requires “hands on” training and does not specify how long or specifically with whom, but as stated, one can infer it is with a more experienced Document Examiner in a lab similar to that of private examiner John Paul Osborn-similar to MY lab, having seen Mr. Osborn’s lab.
Therefore it can be reasonably inferred that the position of the IAI when it comes to the training of document examiners, that an organized training program followed by two years of supervised work and study is what is required to be proficient in the field and that no other avenue of training will qualify one to practice in the field, whereas ABFDE bends the rules to accommodate Mr. Osborn. I do not believe the model set forth by IAI is true right now. This not to say that the idea is not a good idea. It’s just that it MUST be done on the college or university level where fair and equal access to the training can be established as a matter of law. But here is why the current system is flawed.
My research indicates that documented two year training program are only offered by governmental agencies for their employees at tax payers expense regulated by The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners, an organization set up in 1977 with a grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Agency with tax payer money and thus subject to anti-discrimination laws. No such programs that meet that precise criteria exist in the private sector despite the fact, again, the tax payers paid for it. As stated, using tax payer dollars obligates the user to follow federal law, including anti-discrimination laws. The big problem being that in all the years of its existence, the ABFDE has not certified even one black Document Examiner. In fact, recent information provided to me by Congressman shows that the membership of the ABFDE is 92% white males. Talk about “the good ole boys”.
It seems that the ABFDE is making a very transparent attempt to usurp Federal Rules and the authority of the courts whose job it is to determine who is qualified and who is not to render opinions in court when they should be setting educational guidelines for colleges and universities that would enable ANY interested citizen to study and become proficient in the field of Questioned Documents.
The courts have been determining who is qualified and who is not for MANY years before the founding of the ABFDE and have managed to do a very competent job at it so far. But my ultimate goal is to allow only those with a four year degree in the subject to be permitted to testify as experts. The aforementioned police, bankers or any group that studies handwriting can apply to the university just like anybody else.
Now, that being said, the question immediately arises: How does one become proficient in this field, for the time being, who has not completed a government “program and apprenticeship”
Well, the obvious answer is through self study and experimentation such as Albert S. Osborn did as well as Ordway Hilton-both accepted authorities in the field who did NOT complete such a program along with notable others. They were also educated and qualified LONG before the establishment of the ABFDE and their vague requirement of “an approved” lab. Approved by whom? What standards were followed that are publicly available. One can easily understand how it could be documented that a government employee completed a two year training program. They had to go to work every day and had a supervisor on duty whose time was also documented. But how does that apply for example, to examiners like Peter Tytel and other non-government document examiners like John Paul Osborn? What “approved lab did they work in for two years and under whose supervision? What process did the lab have to go through to be approved by the ABFDE. Where are the records of that process. What records exist that prove ANY training took place? IE sign-in sheets, test papers and on and on.
So how do we reconcile the discrepancy of the requirement of the IAI that one must have a two year training program followed by a two year apprenticeship when such programs are only offered through the government and the rest of the experts are basically teaching themselves in any way they can yet under Federal Rule and findings by courts of law that they are in fact an expert as defined by the rule. Remember, an expert is one who knows more than the judge and jury on the subject and is designed to assist the court in reaching a decision on the issue in question.
Well, again, the obvious answer to that question is an accredited course of study at an accredited university with senior examiners acting as teachers AND supervisors just as is the case in any other scientific and forensic discipline.
In this way, just as in any other science and most other forensic sciences, a uniform curriculum could be established across the country at accredited universities willing to teach such a program and these programs will be regulated by law, just as any other course of study taught at a college or university..
Who ever heard of a private board set up with tax payer money whose mission it is to regulate the science of say–Engineering or Medicine whose members often testify as experts? What gives them the right? Well this is the monopoly of ABFDE whose members have received millions and millions in fee from “no-bid” contracts.
The problem with the current system is that the current training programs are not uniform in any way, do not uniformly comply with scientific authority or case law and are restricted to employees of the various agencies offering the courses and not available to ANY interested citizen wishing to pursue the field. As we have seen with Mr. Osborn and Hilton, the government is not the repository of ALL knowledge involving questioned documents yet it seems the ABFDE wants to give us the impression that is so. If that were totally true , that would be a major problem. But again, we are reminded of the ABFDE’s vague and self-serving requirement of “an approved” lab. Government labs would certainly be relatively consistent to eachother but again, what approved lab did Peter Tytel work in and did officials of ABFDE inspect that lab.
But here lies the MAJOR problemm with the current state of affairs in training in the field of Questioned Documents aside from those already discussed. My research has shown that NO ONE taking ANY of these “so-called” two year training courses outside of the federal government can document in writing in ANY way that they, in fact, had ANY training of any kind at any time, though they have testified on the record that is so-Ie no course course material, no test materials, no proof of proficiency, no proof who the instructors were, no proof that the training complies with prevailing authority and case law in the field and finally-The BIGGIE, no proof that the training complies with local, state and federal laws that govern such training-including non-discrimination laws in the offering of the training. I want to see this documentation. States tightly control what is required to teach an apprenticeship on ANY subject for the simple reason they want THEIR schools to teach and charge for the training, so they will make it difficult for ANY individual to legally set up an apprenticeship program on their own. We are talking about state and local agencies here. I excluded the federal government from this because their training programs are obviously well documented and the employees undergoing that training must document the time spent doing it and presumably must pass some sort of proficiency test though these course materials are not public record even though, we as tax pzyers paid for them and very few private citizens have seen this material.
However, that does not mean that Federal training programs are totally following the law either, particularly as it relates to non-discrimination against certain groups. For example, again I am unaware of ANY black document examiners in this country though I have repeatedly asked the leadership of various groups claiming to offer training in Questioned Documents to document who is actually attending these training programs.. If I am mistaken in this notion, please correct me. I am in no way, at this point, implying discriminatory intent by any particular person or agency. It just seems peculiar to me. that since 1977 no black document examiner, that I know of has been certified by the ABFDE or no person, like myself who has studied graphology in the past, albeit forty years ago, has been certified, despite my very obvious proficiency in the field of questioned documents.
My wife is a high school guidance counselor in a vocational/technical school. She has shared the local, state and federal regulations that her school must comply with in order to teach an apprenticeship program. Document Examination is a science and technical skill that could be easily taught in such a school but of course CAN be taught at a technical college. The training MUST comply with all applicable laws. No one has demonstrated to me that ANY training in the field of Questioned Documents ANYWHERE complies fully with ANY of the local, state or Federal laws mentioned. Again, please correct me if I am wrong. I am waiting to be corrected if I am wrong. But an accredited college or university would certainly make sure that such training would certainly comply or they would simply be not alloed to teach it.
It is time to move in that direction.
Unfortunately those who are currently testifying that they have, in fact, completed a two year training program and a two year apprenticeship, as their professional organization requires, and as Ron Emmons says must be the case, are likely unable to document that in any way and may have a hard time on cross examination producing contemporaneous proof of the claim if the issue is raised. Yet they engage in considerable effort to somehow set themselves apart from others not having such training for whatever benefit making such a claim acrues to them. I have stated before that in the five years after I attended the Secret Service Questioned Documents Course, my income from private work as a document examiner increased by 650%, though that was not my intention and, of course I had no way of knowing ahead of time that would happen. Apparently there are others who KNEW or suspected that their income as document examiners from doing private work after leaving government service would increase greatly as mine did, as a colleague once told me.
This is what is so troubling about the true intent of the ABFDE and the fact that THEY have made no attempt to move in the direction of joining with top universities to teach a quality course available to any qualified student since their inception in 1977. This is quite troubling. One need look no further than the fees and income earned by members certified by the ABFDE as document examiners to discover their motivation. Tax payers have paid millions of dollars to ABFDE members performing private services for public agencies from whom I have gotten a letter saying their in house experts are perfectly capable of doing that work. Yet Ms. Leben’s article on Ethics and Professional Responsibility which again states: “Strive to imporve knowledge, skill and abilities within your respective discipline” seems to not include establishing college level training. What better way to do that than for the field of Forensic Document Examination to be taught at a university like virtually every other scientific discipline relied on by the courts. No, the IAI has dropped the ball by insisting those members wishing membership in the QD section be reccomended by a member of the ABFDE, a wholly subjective procedure, designed, in my opinion, to LIMIT the field rather than using their(the IAI) considerable resources to, once and for all, establish a superior college level course in the field of Forensic Document Examination that is available to any qualified student seeking that as a career just like any other science relied on by the courts to seek justice. The cost to the tax payers to continue these programs is ENORMOUS. They need to be eliminated in favor of private sector training, perhaps using retired examiners or other experienced experts from the private sector. As it stands now, the only training I can offer is to supervise the work of a student interested in the field and I will do that. Please contact me if you are interested.
Please send me your suggestions on how we can ALL together in the field, resolve this delemna so that we can move forward for the betterment of the field and put this unfortunate history behind us.
ROBERT J. PHILLIPS
FORENSIC DOCUMENT EXAMINEER