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No Forensic Background? No Problem

There are no national standards for forensic experts. This is how I, a journalism grad student, became certified by the American College of Forensic Examiners International, a leading provider of forensic credentials.

The "Forensic Consultant" certificate journalism grad student Leah Bartos received after watching 90 minutes of video instruction, taking a 100-question test and paying $495 to the American College of Forensic Examiners International Inc. (Photo courtesy of PBS Frontline)

April 19: This story has been corrected.

This story was co-published with PBS Frontline.

This is how I -- a journalism graduate student with no background in forensics -- became certified as a “Forensic Consultant” by one of the field’s largest professional groups.

One afternoon early last year, I punched in my credit card information, paid $495 to the American College of Forensic Examiners International Inc. and registered for an online course.

After about 90 minutes of video instruction, I took an exam on the institute’s web site, answering 100multiple choice questions, aided by several ACFEI study packets.

As soon as I finished the test, a screen popped up saying that I had passed, earning me an impressive-sounding credential that could help establish my qualifications to be an expert witness in criminal and civil trials.

For another $50, ACFEI mailed me a white lab coat after sending my certificate.

For the last two years, ProPublica and PBS “Frontline,” in concert with other news organizations, have looked in-depth at death investigation in America, finding a pervasive lack of national standards that begins in the autopsy room and ends in court.

Expert witnesses routinely sway trial verdicts with testimony about fingerprints, ballistics, hair and fiber analysis and more, but there are no national standards to measure their competency or ensure that what they say is valid. A landmark 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences called this lack of standards one of the most pressing problems facing the criminal justice system.

Over the last two decades, ACFEI has emerged as one of the largest forensic credentialing organizations in the country.

Among its members are top names in science and law, from Henry Lee, the renowned criminalist, to John Douglas, the former FBI profiler and bestselling author. Dr. Cyril Wecht, a prominent forensic pathologist and frequent TV commentator on high-profile crimes, chairs the group’s executive advisory board.

But ACFEI also has given its stamp of approval to far less celebrated characters. It welcomed Seymour Schlager, whose credentials were mailed to the prison where he was incarcerated for attempted murder. Zoe D. Katz – the name of a house cat enrolled by her owner in 2002 to show how easy it was to become certified by ACFEI -- was issued credentials, too. More recently, Dr. Steven Hayne, a Mississippi pathologist whose testimony helped to convict two innocent men of murder, has used his ACFEI credential to bolster his status as an expert witness.

Several former ACFEI employees call the group a mill designed to churn out and sell as many certificates as possible. They say applicants receive cursory, if any, background checks and that virtually everyone passes the group’s certification exams as long as their payments clear.

Some forensic professionals say the organization’s willingness to hand out credentials diminishes the integrity of the field.

“I am insulted by it,” said Dr. Victor Weedn, a forensic pathologist for Maryland’s chief medical examiner office and the vice president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. “They seem like an organization that’s all about the money.”

Robert O’Block, ACFEI’s founder, vigilantly defends the group’s work, saying it has helped make forensics more accessible. He told ProPublica and PBS “Frontline” that the ACFEI credentials are not designed to qualify experts in court and emphasized only a judge can make that determination.

O’Block also said he’s been unfairly criticized by other professional groups that compete with ACFEI in certain regards, including the AAFS, Weedn’s group.

“I have been fighting for 20 years for an open educational certification and accreditation in forensic examination,” O’Block wrote in an email. “But they have painted me as the bad guy.”

* * *

The judges who must determine whether to qualify a witness as an expert face an alphabet’s soup of organizations with differing standards. Some, like the American Board of Criminalistics, vet members extensively, requiring them to pass intensive board exams to demonstrate their skills. Others, as noted in the NAS report, are far less stringent.

Experts in the field worry that inconsistent standards and training for forensic examiners can lead to miscarriages of justice — to the guilty walking free and the innocent being locked up or worse.

“There are a lot of people practicing, but there’s no assurance that they have the requisite training and board certification to see if they do have the skills to do the practical [work],” said Dr. Marcella Fierro, one of the NAS report’s authors and the former chief medical examiner of Virginia.

Under state and federal rules of evidence, judges decide whether prospective expert witnesses can testify, but they sometimes rely heavily on the titles and letters around someone’s name.

“Credentials are often appealing shortcuts,” Michigan circuit court judge Donald Shelton said. Fancy titles can have a disproportionate effect on juries, he added. “Jurors have no way of knowing that this certifying body, whether it’s this one or any other one, exacts scientific standards or is just a diploma mill.”

ACFEI founder Robert O'Block (Photo courtesy of PBS Frontline)O’Block, 60, founded the organization that grew into ACFEI in Branson, Mo., in 1992, after being rejected for membership by a credentialing organization for forensic handwriting experts.

As chronicled in “United for Truth,” ACFEI’s self-published history, his goal was to create an alternative group open to those with all levels of experience. “It didn’t matter that he, himself, was not then one of the anointed handwriting experts,” the book says, “because he already knew that he was an expert at making things happen.”

O’Block launched his first credentialing programs while teaching criminal justice at the College of the Ozarks. Initially, the fledgling operation offered correspondence certifications in forensic document examination and behavior profiling for $100 apiece.

Over time, the organization expanded its offerings, adding dozens of courses to certify applicants in various aspects of forensics, from counseling to nursing to accounting. Applicants must become members of ACFEI to become certified; on top of my course fee, I paid $165 in membership dues.

O’Block also founded related associations that offer credentials in other fields, including psychotherapy and integrative medicine. One, the American Board for Certification in Homeland Security, attracted a powerful new client: the Defense Department. Since 2008, the U.S. Navy has paid more than $8.5 million for sailors to obtain credentials in such specialties as “Disaster Preparedness” and “Sensitive Security Information” through a program separate from the one for forensics.

Today, there are two entities that go by the ACFEI acronym — the original, which is a non-profit, and a related for-profit company called the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute of Forensic Science. O’Block is president of both and, according to tax filings, received total compensation of more than $430,000 in 2010.

ACFEI and its related entities have continued to expand under O’Block’s leadership, growing to about 20,000 members combined, despite periodic controversies.

In 1998, when ACFEI proposed offering an online doctorate in forensic science, dozens of forensics professionals and educators wrote to the Missouri Board of Higher Education to protest the plan. “The questions are suitable for a grade school child,” wrote one. ACFEI dropped its application.

Then, in 2002, the story broke about the cat. O’Block remains vexed by what he calls a “stunt” orchestrated by a member of a competing professional organization.

“First of all, ACFEI did not certify a cat…[It] certified a human being who used fraudulent credentials and called himself Dr. Katz,” O’Block wrote in an email.

Since then, O’Block said, ACFEI has changed its verification process, requiring applicants to submit multiple professional references and be placed on provisional status while their application is pending.

Two days after I passed the Certified Forensic Consultant exam, I received an email from ACFEI asking me for additional materials. I emailed the group my references, a resume and a scanned copy of my college diploma. Less than an hour later, I received an email saying I could start using my forensic consultant designation.

None of my references was contacted by the group.

According to a statement provided by ACFEI’s attorney, that step was deemed unnecessary in my case.

“Professional references are requested in the event questions arise concerning an applicant’s eligibility for the credentialing program in which they are applying,” the statement said. “Since applicant clearly met the requirements for the Certified Forensic Consultant program, professional references were not contacted.”

* * *

Among forensic professionals, there continues to be fierce debate over the quality of ACFEI’s courses -- and what being certified by the group actually signifies.

ACFEI advertises itself as an educational institution and markets its certificates as building up holders’ value as witnesses in court. Expert witnesses are typically paid for their testimony.

The page on its web site for the certification I obtained — Certified Forensic Consultant — says, “The CFC credential contributes to the weight of an individual's testimony relating to qualifications, knowledge of the scope of the issues, the validity of the evidence presented, application of specialized knowledge to the facts in the case, and the relevance of the evidence to the issues in the case.”

But both O’Block and Wecht, the group’s official spokesman, stressed that ACFEI certificates alone don’t make you an expert.

“It’s designed to make somebody feel good, to make them feel they’ve accomplished something, and I would hope they have,” Wecht said in an interview. “Does it really qualify them to be the expert in a particular field? No.”

ACFEI's official spokesman Cyril Wecht (Photo courtesy of PBS Frontline) Wecht also dismissed the notion that the group’s use of “college” in its name could be misleading. “That’s a play on words,” he said. “Nobody believes for one moment that it is a real college.”

In an interview and an email, O’Block defended ACFEI’s credentialing programs by saying the group held seven outside “accreditations and approvals.”

But ACFEI is not recognized as an accredited institution of higher learning by Missouri, where it is incorporated, or by the U.S. Department of Education, which maintains a registry of accredited schools.

A number of organizations, such as the California Board of Registered Nursing and the American Psychological Association, recognize ACFEI as a provider of continuing education. But that’s not the same as institution-wide accreditation, said Leroy Wade, the Assistant Commissioner of the Missouri Board of Higher Education.

“There’s really no oversight that regulates the CE providers in general, at least not in this state,” Wade said. “You can’t put any stock in the fact that an organization states it’s a continuing education provider.”

Several former ACFEI staffers say they came to question how the group writes and administers its exams.

John Bridges was hired as ACFEI’s president and chief executive in 2010 after decades in government, most recently as an administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He left ACFEI after just nine months, frustrated, he says, by the group’s practices.

“Based on my perception of what went on related to standards and quality, it operated like a certification mill,” he said.

Though ACFEI offers both basic courses and more advanced, specialized certificates, Bridges said, its exams are designed so that anyone can pass. He put the failure rate at less than 1 percent.

“If you want to be validated by somebody,” Bridges said, “this organization will validate you.”

O’Block initially said that ACFEI did not keep pass/fail rates for its exams. Later, the group’s attorney said it did keep such statistics, but he did not provide them upon request.

Other former employees said it was routine for low-level staffers to write exams for ACFEI and its related organizations based on textbooks in subject areas in which they had no expertise.

Tania Miller worked for six months as chief association officer for the American Psychotherapy Association, an ACFEI sister group, beginning in fall 2010. A few weeks into her job, she said, she was asked to author an exam to certify forensic counselors. Miller’s background was in marketing and graphic design. She said she declined to write the exam. ACFEI did not respond to questions about Miller.

The Forensic Consultant test I took focused primarily on rules of evidence and courtroom procedure. Some questions required specialized knowledge (i.e., Which rule is known as the “Admissibility of Expert Testimony” rule in the Federal Rules of Evidence? Answer: 702), but ACFEI’s study packets helped me fill in the blanks, making it basically an open-book exam. The rest of the questions relied largely on common sense (i.e., When providing testimony, which of the following should you NOT do? Answer: Cross your arms and joke with the jury.)

ACFEI did not answer questions about what level of expertise it requires of those who write its exams. According to its catalog, some of the exams are authored by prominent specialists, including Wecht.

O’Block vehemently denies that ACFEI is a diploma mill, saying the group has thousands of satisfied members. He has filed five lawsuits in the last year against individuals — mostly bloggers — who have posted statements O’Block claims are defamatory about his organizations. One is pending. The others have been dismissed by courts or at the parties’ request after bloggers agreed to take down posts.

Wecht, whose signature appears on some ACFEI certificates (including mine), said he didn’t know how applicants did on the group’s tests, but emphasized that the group’s program is mostly about fostering enthusiasm for the field.

“The purpose of the organization is to encourage people who are interested in forensic science to learn more, to study more,” he said.

* * *

To critics, the greatest concern about ACFEI is the potential that the organization is giving legitimacy to expert witnesses who don’t warrant it.

Journalism grad student Leah Bartos (Photo courtesy of PBS Frontline) Among the thousands of people that ACFEI has certified is one particularly controversial expert in forensic pathology: Dr. Steven Hayne.

Hayne, the longtime pathologist for the state of Mississippi, performed the autopsies in two shocking 1990s cases in which three-year-old girls were abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered.

In both cases, Hayne testified he had observed bite marks on the young girls. He said he had called in a forensic dentist who confirmed that the marks were human and matched them to dental impressions from the defendants in each case. These findings aided in the convictions of Levon Brooks for the first murder and of Kennedy Brewer for the second. Brooks was sentenced to life in prison. Brewer was sentenced to death.

After the men spent more than 30 years combined incarcerated, the Innocence Project recovered DNA evidence that led investigators to the real killer. He confessed to both crimes, but denied biting the victims.

Hayne no longer conducts autopsies for the state, but continues to give testimony as an expert witness. Testifying in March 2010 in Lamar County Circuit Court, Hayne was asked what board certifications he held. “I'm board certified in anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, forensic pathology and forensic medicine,” he replied.

Hayne has credentials in anatomic and clinical pathology from the American Board of Pathology, considered the gold standard, but not in forensic pathology, the branch of medicine focused on the mechanics of death. For that, he cites his Certified Forensic Physician credential from ACFEI and certification in forensic pathology from the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons.

When attorneys for the Innocence Project submitted a wide-ranging complaint about Hayne to the Mississippi board of licensure, they cited Hayne’s reliance on these organizations to allege he had misrepresented his credentials.

“Certification by these organizations is not at all what the medical community and public understand when a doctor claims to be ’board certified,’" the complaint said, referring to ACFEI and the other group.

Citing ongoing litigation, Hayne declined to be interviewed by ProPublica and PBS “Frontline” beyond confirming that he is certified by ACFEI. He has sued the Innocence Project for defamation in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Wecht acknowledged he knew of Hayne by reputation, but told ProPublica and PBS “Frontline” that he had not known Hayne was certified by ACFEI.

* * *

In its 2009 report, the National Academy of Sciences called for several measures to address systemic flaws involving forensic examiners and expert testimony.

Certification should be mandatory for forensics professionals and should be overseen by a centralized credentialing agency, the report said.

One of the report’s primary authors, Harry T. Edwards -- a federal appeals court judge for the District of Columbia – said these changes were critical to imposing rigorous standards on the field..

“There are certifiers, but it’s not what you and I are talking about -- that is, real certification programs that train, give serious tests and will revoke your license and affect your job and ability to testify in the event that you do something wrong or fail,” Edwards said in an interview. “That doesn’t exist now.”

Despite the controversies that dog it, ACFEI may aspire to fill that role. In a promotional video filmed after the NAS report’s release, Wecht said its findings presented the group with a unique opportunity.

“We can play a role, the challenge has been issued,” he said. “The NAS report can be a blessing to our organization.”

I’ve never tested whether my $495 forensic consultant credential from ACFEI would carry any weight on the witness stand.

Asked about my certification, O’Block responded this way:

“Congratulate Leah for passing the CFC,” he wrote in an August 2011 email. “That course was designed as entry level to educate professionals about the justice system.”

Wecht said he doubted that having the certificate on my resume would be enough to persuade a court to allow me to give expert testimony. Any decent lawyer, he said, could easily cast doubt upon my qualifications.

“A kid right out of law school would say, ‘Ma’am, just exactly what is your training?’” Wecht said. “The point I’m making, you see, is that that piece of paper doesn’t mean that much.”

Leah Bartos graduated from UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism in May 2011. Since then, she’s been a reporter-in-residence at the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley.

Andrés Cediel, the producer of PBS Frontline’s “The Real CSI” and Lowell Bergman, the film’s correspondent, contributed to this report.

Update (4/19): ACFEI has posted a response to our collaboration with PBS "Frontline" on its website. It defends the value of the group's programs and says the pass rate on ACFEI exams is 86 percent.

Here's ACFEI's official statement in response to this article.

Correction: This story identified Henry Lee as a pathologist. Lee has a PhD in biochemistry, but is not a medical doctor.

Personally, I don’t find certificates valuable in any field.  I’ve watched the boom (and near-bust) in the computer industry, and don’t see the interest in someone who has merely passed a test.  When I was involved in hiring, I’d usually bury the resumes that had more than one certificate listed, because those people were (on average) useless outside their narrow fields.

That said, it’s not the government’s responsibility to decide what credentials make an expert witness.  In fact, I’d argue that its their job to prevent discrimination based on a formal educational background.  I’ll take an experienced EMT’s word over that of a young, Harvard-educated doctor any day on most medical topics.

The way to handle this is what Wecht says at the end of the article:  Ask the “expert” to validate himself or herself beyond the certificate with their experience.  Passed a test, wrote a book, and managed a team don’t count unless you’re looking for expertise in test-taking, book-writing, and management.

But that goes for a teacher with a Master’s degree, a licensed electrician, a lawyer, a doctor, an IT guy, or any other field.  If you’re assuming that the person is an expert merely because they have some alphabet soup after their name, there’s a serious lapse in responsibility.

If a lawyer was defending me (for whatever reason) that didn’t research and pick apart the background of every expert witness on the prosecutor’s or plaintiff’s side, I’d have his head.

John             The next time you get sick and have the .possibility of cancer., go to your emt friend for what you should do.I am sure that you will take his competent diagnosis and procedure on what is nececcary to keep you alive. I am alive today after going to be treated by my oncologist 37 years ago.. I had stage 4 cancer. Grow up , so you didn"t get into the college of your choice. Sour grapes gets you nowhere.

It is one thing to have an elected coroner certify a death; most of which are based on circumstance and medical history obtained from family members but quite another in the case of homicide or discovery of skeletal remains found in the brush somewhere. In most communities where healthcare institutions are located death certification is begun via autopsy done by board certified and licensed anatomic pathologists or a local licensed physician. As stated in the article, there is the need for a nationally recognized certifying agency for forensic purposes. I suggest the College of American Pathologists could do the task. Further suggest that no person without bonafide medical school and residency training ever be allowed to autopsy and certify a death.

Vera, I went exactly where I wanted to go, full scholarship, and got a great education.  I even teach there in my off-hours.  I have nothing to be bitter about.  But those degrees don’t make me inherently more qualified than anybody else for any particular job.

To turn your suggestion around, how about going to a doctor and taking his advice without asking a single question about how confident he is in the recommended procedures and how many times he’s performed the operation. 

Good idea?  His actual experience is irrelevant?  I mean, he’s got a degree on his wall.  Framed, even!

Next investigation should be how CFLA out of Los Angeles gets away with the same scenario. They give eager graduates a short 2 day course for something that takes years to learn, and sends them out into the world searching for victims of banks to victimize them all over again calling themselves experts. These graduates get an impressive seal and a title bestowed on them with no real education to back it up.
Please Propublica, expose them too.

A forensic scientist should, in fact, be a “scientist” and, John’s valid argument concerning experience aside, takes education. The quality of that experience must be tested. As an anecdotal, I, who am a forensic professional, worked early in my career with someone who was nearing retirement with 30 years in but it turned out that they were doing somethings wrong.

So, to say that experience is the most important factor, without considering the quality of that experience, will lead to false conclusions.

Education in the science and theory, then training for specific performance goals, then experience putting that all together with proven competency should rule the day; not certifications.

Unfortunately, however, technician-level certifications have become the norm and, therefore, those in my position must obtain them to stay marketable. Again, though, due diligence to weed out meaningful certifications from bought ones should be conducted all around and those that are merely the products of diploma mills should be exposed.

I could tell of my personal experience with Dr. O’Block’s original group that grew into what he has now. However, it would merely bolster what the article presents. I will address the NAS report and why it is worthless to solve the problem of venality and incompetence in forensic practice in America.

The report completely misses or deliberately ignores the true source of the problem. It makes no difference how much patching, reform or replacement of the current system we make. Unless we address the root problem, we will end up with the same result but with an illusion that we corrected things.

The root problem is the willingness of dishonest litigants and their congenial attorneys to win at trial with any tactic and any evidence they can get way with. The very enriching market this provides to venal and incompetent “experts” will always find providers of the desired services. Just as rats and mice will find the least opening into the house’s pantry, so this kind of expert will find the least opening in any law or set of rules to provide the “evidence” unethical litigants and their attorneys need to win. Some prosecutors are among such attorneys. How else would Fred Zane have been so popular among prosecutors when ethical and competent forensic scientists would not create the evidence needed to win a case that lacked honest evidence?

That O’Block’s certified experts can be so pervasive and successful shows how inept opposing attorneys are. All the information in the article has always been available. Simply asking questions similar to the one suggested in the article would do much to expose phony experts. Thankfully, all opposing attorneys need do now is to quote the group’s officials that their certifications certify nothing, that they only serve as high priced cheer leaders to whip up enthusiasm. Enthusiasm minus substance is only hot air. No O’Block certification should ever again carry weight in court.

Meanwhile, the false claimants at court will still work their fraud and find attorneys wiling to profit by it. There will only be either new false forensic experts or the same ones in different dress to supply the well paying need for fabricated or incompetent evidence. The brainy authors of the NAS report missed the crux of the matter. But then, they got a lot of other things wrong also, such as it always took competent and honest forensic experts to help expose the scoundrels.

Regards,

Marcel B. Matley

Taking into consideration the NAS white paper and this article, I would like to say that the International Association for Identification has been around for a long time with the Chesapeake Bay Division being formed in 1962 and is celebrating their 50th anniversary. The parent group (IAI) and the CBD works closely with the various Scientific Working Groups (SWGFAST…) of the many different disciplines and offers up free and low cost training, peer review and an opportunity to publish. They have standards and certification testing, also.
I am not saying that nothing should be done, but each problem MUST be looked at individually and solved/corrected within that problems environment, with the available resources unique to that jurisdiction.
Remember, DNA does NOT mean that the suspect did or did not do it. It simply means that the DNA is or is not theirs and that, along with the context of a good investigation, forensic work and legal process, is someone convicted or exonerated.

As an interesting aside. the professional of geology, in the 1990s, appeared to suffer some envy of Professional Engineering (PE) registration/certification.  PE certification is pretty “real” in the context of these remarks, but can be abused, also as discussed above.  The general community of practice, through professional societies, concluded that Professional geologist (PG) certifications were largely unnecessary, since it did not have a significant public safety nexus. Some states did and continue to register PGs, but many do not.  What I think is notable is that the professionals themselves, to their credit, did not see an overwhelming need to add letters.

Michael, I did hope I was implying “quality” experience, as you say, rather than a number of years.  Or, rather, what I meant was that we need to be interested in their “experiences” (plural, what they’ve worked on) rather than their “experience” (singular, number of years or jobs).  I’ve worked with a lot of people who coasted through their jobs, unfortunately.

I work in Forensic Document Examination and over the years have seen many such pseudo-certifiying organizations cited as legitimate credentials. It behooves those who rely on expert witnesses to keep abreast of such groups and be sure that there is grounds for relying on them. Not an easy task to be sure. I have even seen organizations set up in which the only members/directors were the testifying experts themselves… these complete with registered domain names and web sites.

Legitimate certifying organizations help to filter out those attempting to skirt the requirements of the field, as well as those legitimate persons who are just not quite there yet. The trick is to filter out the organizations that are now what they seem to be.

My experience as a Professional Engineer leads me to say that one thing that qualifies almost all “true” certifications is that they require three things:
1) *relevant* educational background (masters in journalism won’t hack it, with rare exceptions for people who have been in the field for an extremely long time)
2) real-world experience.  A hallmark of PE certification is you have to be practicing engineering under the supervision of a PE for at least 4-5 years before you can even take the test.  Not sure about CPA’s, but I think the rigors of law school and medical rotations are the rough equivalent of this.
3) passing a *hard* test.  The PE exam is not as hard as the bar but it is definitely not a cakewalk; I’m guessing at least 25-30% fail each time.

In most if not all states, it is illegal to call yourself a professional engineer (or doctor or lawyer or CPA) unless you actually have that certification, and in turn a PE seal is required on many types of construction documents or blueprints.  Sounds like a similar situation is required here - states need to pass laws banning someone as calling themselves a forensic expert unless they’ve been accredited by a REAL institution.

Interestingly, Virginia recently passed a bill phasing out licensing/certification requirements for many professions.  This move was actually OPPOSED by many of those professions.  For example, I used to think that the idea of requiring professional licenses for barbers/cosmetologists was silly ... until barbers and tattoo artists started coming out of the woodwork and talking about the horrors that can result when their instruments are not properly sanitized.  So while barbers have a much easier path to certification than engineers, the principle is the same.  Sometimes additional regulation is a GOOD thing.

This is extremely serious. We have Custody Evaluators using these very same credentials to puff up their own credibility in the Family Court. They are making life-changing decisions over parent/child relationships. This is very serious. These Custody Evaluators are nothing but “crystal-ballers,” nothing they do is backed by real science. Worse yet, they are bluffing the Public, the Judges and Attorneys into thinking they are real Forensic Experts!

The Courts even go so far as to back these so-called experts.

This is an extremely huge and serious issue.

You can see the facts of how dangerous this issue really is by visiting: thepubliccourt d o t c o m

The one and only standing up to O’Block in the Court can be read about there.

Clark Baker (LAPD ret)

April 18, 2012, 3:13 p.m.

Once again, ProPublica has done a terrific job exposing ACFEI for what it is.  But as a 30+ year investigator, your report merely scratches the surface.

The overwhelming majority of these medical boards and credentialing organizations are membership/certificate mills.  For example, AAHIVM provides certificates for “HIV experts” but is funded primarily by the drug industry that sells HIV drugs and tests.  Their advisory board is comprised almost entirely of industry marketers or MDS who accept kickbacks from those industries.

Those experts then testify, sending factually innocent men and women to prison.  They also use their credentials to convince child services agencies to force parents to administer deadly drugs to their children - or to lose them to foster parents who will.

This story is a good start for a target-rich environment.  We’ll have to see if Berkeley’s ~$200 million in annual NIH funding will force Leah’s team to ignore what’s going on at that campus.

Keep up the good work!

As a criminal defense attorney I cross examine state-employed crime lab “forensic scientists.” Judges rubber stamp these government employees as experts simply because they are government employees.  If they’ve testified once and been approved by even a single judge, they are pretty much going to get the approval of any judge around here by virtue of the previous approval. 

For example, we’ve got a young “forensic scientist” in our crime lab who has a BS in biology and worked in a chocolate factory before taking a job at the crime lab.  No forensic training in college.  No Masters degree or PhD in related fields.  Judges have qualified her as an expert in gas chromatography (but all she really knows is how to load the tray with samples and push buttons on the Agilent) and the effects of alcohol and/or drugs on the human body.  She is not an MD, not a pharmacologist, nor has she studied toxicology.  Nevertheless, she can testify as a “forensic scientist” because “forensic scientist” is her job position title.

Sure, I can make her look a stupid as a 2x4 to people who understand science and what a real expert in forensic science is (how rare is that in a juror!), but the judge’s “I qualify her as an expert” statement in front of the jury makes me look like a bully when I attack her credentials and actual knowledge and training.  Once the judge has given that rubber stamp of approval, juries believe her and her colleagues.  No, they are not forensic scientists; they are well-trained and experienced professional witnesses who speak with an aura of scientific authority, because it is their JOB to convince the jury that the government is always correct when they charge a person with a crime.

Campbell MacDiarmid

April 19, 2012, 3:04 a.m.

Fantastic feature Leah, I’ll follow your career with interest.

The whole world is based on hierarchies and badges and uniforms and hats.
Just think how many times you saw a colleague being promoted and the very next day they appeared to have had an injection of knowledge , authority and status they did not have mere hours before.

Its a game that is played on us lovely human beings.

There is a simple solution to this problem that not only lessens the effect of bogus expert testimony, but also would make our system of justice more fair and accurate.  From my perspective as an expert witness (board certified, forensic pathologist) who often is provided with the alleged facts of the case and is expected to provide evidence to support or discredit the allegations, it seems to me that any jury should not be composed of naive laypersons, but rather experienced, respected, credentialed local experts with existing knowledge and understanding of the policies, procedures, and scientific bases utilized to collect, process, and evaluate evidence.  A pool of impartial professional jurors could be created and maintained, with their respective areas of expertise subject to periodic reevaluation by the courts and recertification of their understanding.  Because they would be acting independently, each professional juror would serve only as needed and would bill the court for their services at a negotiated rate. 

Here are some of the possible benefits of professional jurors as described above:

  •  an available jury pool of prescreened, impartial, knowledgable individuals.
  •  reduction of time, expense, and inefficiencies of selecting lay jurors.
  •  reduced time and expense preparing and presenting evidence at trial.
  •  fair, thorough, and informed review and interpretation of evidence.
  •  increased ability of jurors to question or challenge quality of evidence.
  •  elimination of courtroom drama and theatrics to sway jury.
  •  improved evaluation of evidence by interactions among expert jurors.
  •  high juror expectations for quality evidence collection and analysis.

Clark Baker (LAPD ret)

April 19, 2012, 7:12 p.m.

While professional juries sound like a good idea, they cannot share ANY professional or financial ties to any industry that relies on junk science.  OMSJ typically impeaches “HIV experts” who testify in criminal, civil and military matters.  Our success comes not from professional juries, but from a team of uncorruptable MDs, PhDs and attorneys who have not been bought by the drug and healthcare industries and who are immune from retaliatory practices like fraudulent peer review.  We’ve found that most attorneys lose cases not because of poor expertise, but because they don’t know how to cross-examine expert witnesses.  If you get the right team involved, charlatans are easily caught.  For more info about how we do what we do, visit OMSJ’s HIV Innocence Group.

Panels of professional juries/judges are a good idea that have been adopted worldwide to avoid exactly what you offer, an escalation of the courtroom strategies to gain an advantage.  It is estimated that 15% of US jury verdicts are incorrect.  This is not justice, but rather a system that serves those with savvy attorneys and not the public.  Without abundant resources to mount an adequate defense or prosecution one encounters a serious disadvantage in our system.

Try joining the AAFS without proper credentials. I agree there is a problem with forensic expert testimony. Courts are requiring forensic science be based on scientific studies, not empirical observation as has been to often the case.

The solution to excessive trust in credentials is not to hand our fates over to elites, John.  At best, we’d just be trading one set of questionable credentials for another.  At worst, we’d be limiting the number of people required to completely corrupt the system to an enumerated list.  It’s not like jury manipulation is a new idea, after all.

Thanks, but I’ll risk a 15% false conviction (even for myself) in exchange for maintaining the principle that “all men are created equal.”

The right solution is to start demanding the courts judge expertise on track record rather than credentials and forcing the attorneys to question that history.  Marie’s story is very instructive, I think, in that the opposition knows it’d be easy to dismiss most experts, but demanding facts somehow looks like theatrics.

Clark Baker (LAPD ret)

April 20, 2012, 12:42 p.m.

John:

After an appellate court cleared me of false criminal allegations in 1994 (citing the judge, prosecutors and my employer for misconduct), my defense still cost me $80K and three years of my life.  No reasonable person would ever knowingly tolerate a one percent false conviction rate - let alone 15 percent.  Innocence is supposed to PRESUMED in this country.

Having testified in more than 1000 criminal and civil trials, hearings and depositions - and having qualified as an expert in more than 50 cases – experience tells us that empirical evidence can be useful.  How compelling was Galileo’s evidence when he challenged Rome’s credentialed astrological experts?  How important was Ignaz Semmelweis’ empirical evidence when he told mainstream physicians to wash their hands before treating patients (prophylaxis)?

Credentials today are typically based upon medical and scientific CONSENSUS – a political attribute that has nothing to do with medical or scientific research.  More often than not, the credentialing boards are either document mills or funded by the industries that use boards to market their products and promote their beliefs.

Of consensus, Michael Crichton said:

“(T)he work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics.  Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.  In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus… There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus.  Period.”

When it comes to expertise, I’ll accept the word of a truthful lay person over the opinions of a pharmaceutically-funded “healthcare professional.”

The problem is not with credentialing organizations but with lawyers who lack the training, expertise and resources to effectively defend a case that is based upon medical or scientific evidence.  The first step in finding the right expert is to avoid industry-funded credentials.

You’re very right, Clark, and hope I didn’t imply otherrwise.  My reaction was against Mr. Hain’s suggestion that the problem was in having a jury of one’s peers in lieu of the equivalent of a paid tribunal.

Given the choice only between that scenario and bad decisions, I’ll take the bad decisions, even though I’d obviously rather have neither.  The principle that our society not equate credential with truth is far more important to me, because the principle is the only way to protect against malicious convictions I’m aware of.

John, a body of experienced, knowledgable, trusted individuals who are compensated fairly to evaluate the evidence is not an “elite” but rather a professional team working together to establish the truth of the matter at hand.  In our current system of injustice, the side with the greatest resources has a distinctly unfair advantage, with manipulation of the perceptions of unwitting jurors being a top priority.  Not only is the current process unfair but is also unnecessarily expensive and slow.  A savvy, independent jury could dramatically streamline the process and render accurate verdicts at much lower cost to both sides.

Clark Baker (LAPD ret)

April 20, 2012, 5:35 p.m.

Mr. Hain:

The US Government, public education, and the pharmaceutical, healthcare, financial, mortgage and investment industries are already comprised of “a body of experienced, knowledgable, trusted individuals who are compensated fairly…”  a fact that hasn’t worked out very well for taxpayers, patients, homeowners, investors or students.

As for “a professional team working together to establish the truth of the matter at hand” you’ve described what experienced private investigators are licensed and trained to do.  It is up to jurors and judges to weigh evidence without bias.

As screwed up as the US criminal justice system is, it is heads and shoulders above what I’ve seen in Crown jurisdictions like the UK, Canada and Australia.  I still believe in the current US jury system and don’t believe that paid professionals are the answer.

US industries already own the executive and legislative branches of government: Professional juries would give them an opportunity to compromise the judiciary more than it already has (i.e. vaccine courts and malpractice caps).

Isn’t it interesting, and a bit suspicious, to you, Clark, that most forensic scientists (and other experienced crime and death investigators) like myself are rarely chosen to serve on a jury?  Seems to me like there is, if anything, bias against jurors with in depth knowledge of the issues being addressed in court. 

Other than your opinion, do you have reputable evidence that the US system is superior to all others?  If so, please direct me to studies that have concluded such is the case.  I haven’t been able to find any comparative scientific analyses of the fairness, efficiency, and accuracy of various legal systems and would very much appreciate some references.

Only in America…...

Clark Baker (LAPD ret)

April 23, 2012, 10:21 a.m.

Having been involved in 100+ cases throughout the US, I can USUALLY secure the name of a defendant, his case number and the contact info of his attorney.  When I call the attorney with exculpatory evidence, they are typically enthusiastic about receiving it.  Even if they don’t use the evidence, two-thirds are intellectually curious and seek additional info before making a decision.

Typically when I call Crown jurisdictions, I get the run-around from the court clerk, who tells me to call the prosecutor or law enforcement.  When I call those agencies they refer me back to the clerk or ask me to fax my request and the nature of the exculpatory evidence.  I have yet to get ONE CALL back from someone who cares that the accused might be factually innocent.

I’ve found that this sometimes happens in the US too - typically is small towns where the children of defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges attend the same ice cream socials and debutant balls.

Typically, prosecutors and defense attorneys will dismiss experienced investigators to keep us from influencing other jurors with our assessment of the evidence.  The side with the weaker side (prosecutors or defense) typically prefers a jury that will be easily influenced by emotional cues, not evidence.  Experienced investigators recognize when charlatans blow smoke.  Jurors - especially those trained by Hollywood’s version of LA Law and CSI - are preferred.

The US system is FAR from perfect, but I’ll take it every time over any Crown or Third World version of criminal justice.

Fernando Alvarez

April 23, 2012, 11:13 a.m.

Basically any organization, especially associations, can create a “certificate program” to certify people as “expert” in any specific field. There is no rule, no law, and no regulations about the standards or the requirements to accept an applicant. For some of this organizations “is all about the money” but there are other that are more strict and ask proof of prior experience and training in the specific field and go deep into backgrounds and identity of the applicant before accept him or her to their certificate program. Besides that, the status of “Expert Witness” issued by a judge should be standardized and regulated. “Be aware of everything, Trust nothing.” Fernando Alvarez, LPI, LSC, Drakonx Investigations http://www.drakonx.com/

I hear a lot of interesting points. Here’s one that is SUPER important. Dr. Stephen Doyne PhD has been using the ACFEI on his letterhead for years. He has been using the ACFEI to bluff the public, Judges, and Attorneys into thinking he is a real expert with this Diplomate. He makes life-changing decisions about parent/child relationship in Custody Evaluations. There is nothing real and qualifying about this ACFEI Diplomate for this work he does. He uses it as a way to bluff or fool the public into thinking he is the real deal. This serious when someone does something like this as an expert witness of the court. Worse, he FAILED to use the MANDATORY Rules of Court form that would technically and legally qualify him to perform work for Family Court in CA, yet he has on his resume that he teaches the very rules of court that he has violated for many years! All this while bluffing everyone with the ACFEI. This is what we’re talking about folks! This is the danger of diploma mill activity. It undermines real, accredited institutions of learning as well. This is not even a question to me, it simply should not be allowed to happen at all and the Government needs to crack down hard on this. People’s lives are being destroyed and ruined by “crystal ball” so-called experts of the court? Read thepubliccourt d o t c o m for more and to see the facts, the truth.

Clark Baker (LAPD ret)

April 23, 2012, 1:16 p.m.

Ben:

I once believed the same thing - that the Government should “crack down” on the charlatans.

But groupls like the Innocence Project and OMSJ have consistently demonstrated the Government’s inability to produce credible experts and evidence.  Once the Government starts to dictate who the experts are, we’ll return to the days when Pope Urban’s astrologers discredited heretics like Galileo as “unqualified.”

Since 2009, OMSJ has demonstrated in dozens of cases why defense attorneys must enlist the assistance of honest investigators, MDs and scientists.  Unfortunately, the universities and research centers that employ those experts are typically compromised by industry and government funding that precludes them from being honest.

For example, one does not qualifiy for global warming or AIDS research funding unless they accept - as fact - that humans cause global warming and HIV causes AIDS.  When it comes to medical and scientific research, skepticism offers few financial, academic or political rewards.

As a result, hundreds of factually innocent Americans have been wrongfully convicted often because the experts from state and national rosters are weighted by “qualified experts” who will not risk their careers to admit how incompetent they and their alchemy really is.  Those mainstream experts also use medical boards and credentialing agencies to retaliate against those who deviate from the official theological doctrine.

Just as prosecutors have the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, defense attorneys have a burden to remain skeptical and ask the right questions.  And if/when they don’t know the questions - they must seek counsel pro hac and/or investigators who do.  Being a criminal defendant is dangerous enough without relying judges, juries or The Government to educate themselves about junk scientists or pseudoscientific forensic experts.  It’s up to defense counsel to keep the Government (and their witnesses) honest.

Clark,

The issue I am bringing up is that ACFEI won’t give you information, won’t talk openly, doesn’t have a real Board process that is rigorous and puts out more credible professionals. What they do is lower the standard and fool everyone in the process, while they rake in the bucks. A Cat got credentialed? C’mon!

If you are a MD and someone files complaint against you, the Board does something and can take a license away. If you have the ABPP or ABFP and a credible complaint comes through they take your certification away. O’Block won’t even talk to the cameras and Wecht is giving moronic, “it’s fun” responses to the interviewer, insulting the public actually—like the credentials are little “official looking” tokens of CE… but they are official looking!!! Most people see them as the real deal, something to be highly respected?! What a joke!

The Government needs to make sure that whoever is certifying Forensic Experts that they have been through a rigorous process, vetted by real Board Certified experts, and that if credible complaints come against them their certification will be taken away. The Courts need to work with people who have worked through hard-to-achieve certifications and the Judges and Attorneys need to be educated about low-ball, “gum-ball” machine credentials that look official and real, like O’Block’s ACFEI. There is FRAUD occurring in my opinion and it needs to be clamped down on hard.

If Forensic Experts are making life-changing decisions over people they should be held to standards of education and practice that MDs are held to.

Did you go to thepubliccourt d o t c o m and see the evidence? Did you see the 10News I-Team Invetigation on Doyne there? O’Block then still would not talk openly or give credentialing information. This has been documented more than just with Leah Bartos story. There is something very, very shady about O’Block’s behavior and Wecht’s responses. Did you analyze the moronic responses that Wecht gave? To me he’s not a real MD, to me he’s more like a has-been MD who has become a writer and PR guy for O’Block’s money-making diploma-mill scam. Did you see how many Certs he has to offer? Yah right! How can they ALL be legitimate? C’mon!!!

This is NOT what the Courts need. The Courts need to become educated about their behavior and responses, and no longer fooled by those that hang their certs on their walls or put it under their signatures on letterhead.

Do you know that O’Block pedals the ABLEE to the FBI? Why isn’t the FBI concerned? They and other law enforcement agencies, in my opinion, should be embarrassed by the story. How is it that one guy can operate so many legitimate (I think there are like 14) board certifications? How? They are NOT legitimate in my opinion, it’s a diploma mill! This needs to be stopped in my opinion.

Clark Baker (LAPD ret)

April 23, 2012, 4:25 p.m.

Ben:

If I wanted to discredit ACFEI, psychologists and organizations like ABPP and ABFP would be among the last examples I’d list as credible boards.  Google those organizations, their membership, and terms like GLAXOSMITHKLINE, ELI LILLY, BRISTOL MYER-SQUIBB and ASTRA ZENECA to see why.

I’m not defending ACFEI and I’ve never applied for membership there.  But before we ask the government to take it down, I’d look at hundreds of other certificate mills like AAHIVM, ACP, Harvard and Cornell.

Ben, the problem is that even people with entirely “valid” credentials make those same bone-headed mistakes.  Some people are crappy at their jobs, even with many degrees and certificates to their name.

That’s been my point:  Don’t assume that anybody, no matter how many letters he trailing his name, is an expert.  An expert is someone who has a track record of making correct decisions when it counts, not someone who scored really, really high on a multiple choice test.

That (and jury nullification, for similar reasons) is something that should be explained to every juror, but somehow, magically, it isn’t.  So we, being potential jurors, need to educate ourselves in the matter.  Because the lawyers (and post-lawyer judges), needing such blind faith in their credentials (they can graduate with a C and just barely pass the bar, and you would never know), certainly aren’t going to bring it up.

It’s not ACFEI or even Clark’s pharmaceutical associations that’s the root of the problem.  Those low-level, unregulated certifications serve a purpose within the narrow field where they’re understood.  The problem is that some people look at any credential and accept it without any questions.

Imagine hiring an engineer to design a bridge, just because he graduated from MIT.  Don’t ask any questions about his experience out of school, his design experience, or heck, even his major.  Just hire him, because MIT gave him a diploma.  How good is that bridge going to be?  Is he in the wrong if his design stinks?  Is MIT?

John:

Your points corroborate what I’ve said - that opposing counsel should NEVER accept ANY credentials at face value or assume that credentials establish competence or veracity.

How many credentialed lessons from ENRON, Arthur Anderson, Lehman, Ernst & Young, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the SEC, Bernie Madoff, and the Federal Reserve do we need for one lifetime?

As a general rule, consumers, voters and opposing counsel should apply Ronald Reagan’s axiom - “Trust, but verify.”  At present, the US Gov’t is unfit to establish what credentials are and are not valid.

John, Clark, et al.

Even though there is a questionable credential, and even though there is a history of experience of 20+ years more or less, but significant, it apparently doesn’t make for too much of a safer environment for litigants, and I will only speak about the Family Court in this respect.

Take for example Dr. Stephen Doyne PhD. My opinion of him is that he is scum, inhumane and nothing but corrupt. You can read about him more at thepubliccourt d o t c o m. I have gotten to know dozens of parents who all think the same thing about this guy, all of these people are high-functioning, loving, caring parents, not perfect, but not criminals either. Doyne and others who have the San Diego Family Court “locked-up” so to speak as Custody Evaluators, are known loosely as the “dirty-dozen” for being used over and over and over again. There are many qualified to do the same work but the court keeps working with the same. Legally and technically speaking, many can and should be able to do the same work, but that’s not happening. All of these so-called dirty dozen are notorious for writing cookie-cutter Custody Evaluation Reports, back-patting each other with referrals amongst each other, backing each other in reports, lying in reports and on the stand, fabricating pathologies when none exist, placing children with the high-risk parent when they KNOW it will ONLY create more fight which will mean MORE MONEY in their pockets and the pockets of the Attorneys that work in concert with them.

Now beyond me there are other people who know other people all amassing to hundreds (thousands?) in San Diego County who all say the same things about how they operate, about how this racketeering scheme is operating. And there IS NOT ACTUAL scientific basis or real science to what they do! They are making life-changing decisions about parent/child relationships, ripping off parents of the kids’ college funds, ruing lives, all for MONEY. This is fact. There are facts that prove this fact and there are large numbers of people who would make a very strong empirical case.

However, the Judges, Board of Psychology, the CA AOC, the DA, the FBI, anyone who would or could do anything, is doing absolutely nothing, even when hard-core, material evidence has been presented in complaints against these FRAUDS and CROOKS running what is an elaborate racketeering scheme.

…and we have some of these people using the ACFEI to bluff the public, the attorneys, and the Judges! This is very serious.

Ben:

While speaking with a practicing surgeon last year, I estimated that healthcare (including psychologists and psychiatrists) are comprised of roughly three percent psychopaths, one percent honest and an acquiescent 94 percent.  He disagreed, declaring that at least ten percent of all “healthcare professionals” are socio- and/or psychopathic.

Regardless of the actual number, anyone who understands healthcare recognizes that the problem is not with the virtuously-challenged minority, but with the acquiescent majority who refuse to risk careers that pay for dance lessons, home mortgages, car payments and pharmaceutically-funded conferences and kickbacks.

It’s not hard to understand the courtroom prostitutes like the one you described.
 
Many spend years in college and struggle years more paying off college loans.  To graduate, they remain silent because they know what happens to students who ask politically dangerous questions that threaten university funding.  They get along to graduate and, by the time their student loans have been replaced with new loans to cover the costs of a mortgage, nice cars and private schools.

The problem is made worse by industry-funded boards that support and celebrate industry prostitutes.  Many serve as hired guns because they are protected by boards that will protect them if publicly challenged and humiliated.

In 1986, Congress passed the cynically-titled HEALTH CARE QUALITY IMPROVEMENT ACT (HCQIA, pron. “HICK-WA”), which indemnifies medical board members even when retaliatory fraud is demonstrated (i.e. Poliner, 2009).  In this way, many of these healthcare- and pharmaceutically-funded boards have become the enforcement mechanism of the widespread corruption that permeates the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries - industries that now own and control the executive and legislative branches of government; the media, regulators, and large swaths of the judiciary (i.e. vaccine courts, malpractice caps).

In such a predatory environment, sociopaths thrive.

After decades of ridiculing the prototypical “trial lawyer” as a policeman and investigator, I’ve come to appreciate that they are America’s last line of defense in a lawless country.

OMSJ exists to provide support to those attorneys and the rare professionals who hope to make a positive difference.

Thank you Clark! I get what you are saying and agree with you. The insights I have gained are similar.

Seriously Ben - give it a rest.  Have you ever thought of the fact that the more crap you dish out, the more that will eventually hit you in the face?

@concerned, You are probably Mr. ACFEI himself are you not? Zoe the cat would love this. Meowwww….

Just to clarify, Ben, I’m not disputing that there’s a problem.  I’m just saying that your Dr. Doyne could have a medical board-certified pediatrician with multiple PhDs in special related fields, and he could still be cretinous garbage destroying families.  (Actually, I think that may be a requirement for working in Family Court in some jurisdictions.)

Those people absolutely need to be eliminated, and the only way to do that is by unmasking them.  I can’t say I know how to do that, but as I suggested at the top, if I had a case coming up, I’d have my lawyer researching Doyne’s “success rate” and showing that his “expertise” isn’t compelling, the same way that parents are routinely discredited for actually, say, caring for their kids.

But the focus needs to be on the people.  Focus on the credentials, and they’ll just jump to another magic credential amulet and start over.

It’s been a very interesting and enlightening discussion, by the way, guys.

John wrote - “Those people absolutely need to be eliminated, and the only way to do that is by unmasking them.”

This is exactly what OMSJ has done with criminal HIV cases, unmasking every prosecution expert called as, at best, uninformed.

EXAMPLE www-dot-omsj-dot-org/cases/2010/perkins/perkins duwve.pdf

OMSJ routinely prevails because we understand HIV theology better than the clerics who are called to pontificate.  Unfortunately, psychology is a much more subjective alchemy, which means that opposing counsel’s only hope is to find a better liar than the one called by The State.

Today, corporations and governments use psychologists the same way that the Soviet Union used them to confine and medicate dissidents in mental institutions.  John Virapen “Side Effects: Death” (2009) describes in his book how Eli Lilly employed him to identify, target, bribe and corrupt government officials who were employed to protect the public from deadly pharmaceutical drugs.  His self-admitted psychopathy changed with the birth of his son and Lilly and the US Government’s proposal to test and medicate two-year-olds with psychotropic drugs (SSRIs).

In a perverse way, I sympathise with these “experts.”  After all, how do MDs and PhDs expect to pay off a $200k student loan without compromising their values?

A psychologist once admitted to me that if he started to tell the truth that LA County would stop calling him as their contract expert.  Taking the words of Stanley Baldwin, these (industries) are engaged in the “perpetual pursuit of power - power without responsibility - the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.”

My experience being an expert, certified as CFC, CMI-V, CCI, and CI has been satisfying.  I have presented myself in cases with the utmost integrity and honesty.  It is ultimately the expert that will misrepresent and definitely find themselves fighting the battle of credability on the witness stand.  A good expert, regardless of the credentials that stands for the truth in justice is not bad in nature.  The association has no control over those who insist on embellishing their credentials and misleading the public.  I wish to stand seperate from them and I stay connected with the ACFEI because they do have the training and continuing education programs that I enjoy and benefit from professionally.  As for my fees, I have made less than poverty level as I take many cases on a pro-bono basis for believing in a cause and because I can as a citizen.  Thanks to the ACFEI, I have been able to network with some professionals I may not have otherwise come in contact with.  Stand strong ACFEI and keep bringing people together.

I recently completed an ACFEI course and it was pretty consistent with many other online certifications that I have taken. It seems that PBS and many others commenting on this article are wanting to blame ACFEI for the faults of any of their members. A certifying organization simply validates a candidates existing knowledge.

The solution I would like to see provided at this point is to nail down some of the science with the following approach:

1). Put the education process in the hands of the universities and colleges that are accredited, and develop the graduate level biologists, chemists, physicists, and medical doctors.
2). Have them develop the science of medical examining with the procedures that make the most sense scientifically for the various types of information gathering needed.
3). Have them state the weight of accuracy and validity that supports each procedure, and continue to develop this science alongside all the other programs.
4). Then document the statements of confidence level for each procedure in a text that can be used to educate judges and attorneys so no one uses the “human smell test to prosecute.
5). Ensure county budgets provide newly degreed MEs with all the necessary tools and space to do the job right.

This approach should nail down the ME processes to within reason, eliminate unfounded methods, enlighten the courtrooms with some facts, and gain the good MEs the respect they deserve.

Thoughts?

@Rae, Yah, that’s a start. What you may not understand is that there is no science to Psychologists, etc. performing Custody Evaluations… evaluations that make life-changing decisions over parent/child relationships.

There is no scientific study on this planet (and there never will be) that can conclusively show that “x” Custody Evaluator as a certified Forensic Expert can scientifically know what is right for two parents. Show me the study? There are none, there never will be.

The misapplication of ACFEI by Stephen Doyne PhD, David Green, and who knows how many others out there to sell themselves as ‘experts’ is FRAUD upon the Public, FRAUD upon the litigants who must be able to trust that there is scientific method to a Custody Evaluation. There is none, never will be. They are all “crystal-ballers” and I defy you to prove me wrong. You never, ever, ever prove that there is true scientific method for a custody evaluation that knows what is truly best for both parents—only both parents know what is best for their children, excepting some very clear and evident mental, psychological deficiencies, but even then there is no real, true science in that. If someone is going to kill, abuse to serious levels, etc. well then there is reason to make sure children and safe parent are safe. But, what is going on out there is that the misapplication of Custody Evaluators in the Family Courtroom has allowed corrupt individuals to come along and play ‘god’ over parent/child relationship, and the Judges are buying this BS. Numerous complaints against Evaluators have been made across the Nation and all is said against the complainant is typically, “oh they are just disgruntled” or the Board of Psychology will say, “He/She did not fall below the standard.”

There is a lot of corruption going on over this role, and it gets very serious when you have people like Stephen Doyne PhD and David Green using a questionable credential such as ACFEI to fluff their own image in the eyes of the Court and Public… and essentially they ARE selling themselves as expert Custody Evaluators to the Judges and Attorneys if they are putting this ACFEI on their wall, their letterhead, etc. Stephen Doyne is. Check out the facts at thepubliccourt d o t c o m

Psychology degrees coupled with the ACFEI doesn’t make a psycholodgist, LMFT, or even a counselor, or even an MD, a scientific expert who knows how to decide what is best for parent/child relationship in a Custody Evaluation. There is absolutely NO science whatsoever, never will be.

The Judges and Attorneys are using that role to make more money, that’s pretty much what’s going on in my opinion, and the Public is being bluffed all the way to the bank and to ruin in the process.

This is where the ACFEI is not taking a responsible role in seeing through that they have a safe product/service for the public. If Cyril Wecht and O’Block thinks their ACFEI is about learning, etc (just read their asinine responses in the article) then they are not being responsible as to how this ACFEI could be used, and is being used to bluff the Public into thinking there is real science behind what people like Stephen Doyne do for the court.

I am very firm my opinions about this. ACFEI is dangerous, I believe very dangerous for society, very dangerous for the integrity of higher learning institutions too.

Clark Baker (LAPD ret)

May 3, 2012, 12:02 p.m.

Rae:

The process of producing and finding the right forensic expert is not about accreditation, diplomas, boards or certificates - it is about an attorney’s responsibility to find the right witness.

If I were looking for a place to produce credible witnesses, the LAST place I’d rely on would be academia.

Corruption permeates the medical, scientific and academic communities (universities) – environments that are heavily influenced by funding from the biotechnical and pharmaceutical industries. 

Students and academics whose work threatens their university politically or financially (i.e. global warming, HIV) invite the wrath of administrators, whose responsibilities are focused on revenue, profits and shareholder value.  Like public schools, producing critical thinkers is too often an unintended consequence.

When I seek credible experts, my candidates are often among the vilified minority whose work does not attract accolades, grants or invitations to industry-funded conventions in Tahiti or the French Riviera.

This is not to say that all MDs, PhDs and certificate holders are bad – MANY are very good.  But it is up to the astute attorney (and his investigators) to vet the experts for their clarity of thought, based upon results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.

Attorneys should avoid experts who rely upon the medical or scientific CONSENSUS.  In science, consensus is irrelevant.  History’s greatest scientists are great not because they agree with everyone else, but because they challenged the consensus.

So if you’re looking for a good expert, find someone who isn’t afraid to tell the truth and can lay a foundation that ordinary folks can clearly understand.

Then again, if a defendant is guilty or a prosecutor has a weak case, diplomas and certificates might be just enough for jurors to acquit the guilty or convict the innocent.

To Ben’s point:

Psychologists typically render unreliably subjective opinions, which are often based upon facts related to the likelihood of being assigned new cases.

Child services and other gov’t functionaries generally do not call witnesses whose opinions conflict with their administrative objectives.  And if a child services administrator’s income and funding depends upon the number of children in custody who receive psychotropic drugs, finding experts who agree with what you want (because they care and know better than parents) is typically what makes the phones ring.

Like astrologers, bloggers and celebrities, some psychologists can provide guidance - but they should NEVER be relied upon to make life-changing decisions for a family or a court.

Dr. Cyril Wecht, MD, JD

May 9, 2012, 8:04 p.m.

This was a contrived hatchet job by Lowell Bergman, who improperly and quite unethically uses his post-graduate students to pursue his investigative exploits.

          There are more than 15,000 members of the ACFEI, including many top level professionals (e.g., Dr. Henry Lee, Dr. Katherine Ramsland, former FBI agent John Douglas, Dr.Sanjay Gupta).

          I have been calling attention to the NAS Report since the first day it was released – Feb. 18, 2009 – at the annual AAFS Mtg.  Indeed, I just discussed this Report when I was a keynote speaker at the Natl. Conf. of Crim. Defense Attys. in L.V. one month ago.

          All the PBS comments about the Brandon Mayfield fingerprint fiasco, and the forensic odontology bitemark controversy came from me originally, when Bergman first interviewed me more than a half year ago.

          With regard to the various forensic scientific evidentiary abuses that have occurred around the country over the past 30 years, check to see how many of the culprits were AAFS members.  Most of them!  (And I am a former AAFS President.)

          Leah Bartos was a set-up from day one, orchestrated by Bergman.  I readily agree that her application was processed improperly.  She should never have received a certificate of any kind from the ACFEI.  That kind of problem has been recognized and acknowledged, and it has been corrected.

          You are an experienced, competent attorney.  Would you ever accept someone offered as an expert based upon a certificate which simply indicates that person has taken a course that “contributes” to their knowledge?

          I am certain you would agree with me that it is essential – especially for attorneys – to have knowledge of all the facts before arriving at any conclusions.  I would suggest that you share all this information with your listserve colleagues, and encourage them to learn more about the ACFEI before accepting without question a very biased, vicious presentation by a proven unscrupulous scoundrel like Bergman.

          I would be pleased to further discuss this matter with you if you would like to have any additional information.

          I believe it is quite invalid and unjust to delegitimize me so quickly based upon a limited, highly prejudicial TV program.  Mature, unbiased, well-educated, experienced, competent, seasoned trial attorneys should be the number one professional group to recognize the McCarthy-like tactics that are utilized by these self-styled, investigative TV reporters.  Negativism, sensationalism, distortion of facts, rejection of a dozen hours of extensive discussions and forthright responses to questions – that is the modus operandi of a serpent like Bergman.

          Regrettably, very few people are immune to such venomous bites.

          Kind regards

Sincerely,

Cyril

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Post Mortem

Post Mortem: Death Investigation in America

A year-long investigation into the nation’s 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices uncovered a deeply dysfunctional system that quite literally buries its mistakes.

The Story So Far

In TV crime dramas and detective novels, every suspicious death is investigated by a highly trained medical professional, equipped with sophisticated 21st century technology.

The reality in America’s morgues is quite different. ProPublica, in collaboration with PBS “Frontline”  and NPR, took an in-depth look at the nation’s 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices and found a deeply dysfunctional system that quite literally buries its mistakes.

More »

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