Judge Throws Out Christopher Morales Expert Testimony—From Small Claims Court

Christopher Morales and the sellers who use him claim that as a "forensic document examiner," his "scientific methods" and exhaustive procedures have earned him "court-approval." They say this makes him far superior to any other kind of autograph authenticator.

Forensic document handwriting analysis generally requires at least 10-15 known handwriting samples, preferably from the time period of the writing being analyzed. The "scientific" part is primarily ink and paper analysis to try to establish when the item was could have been signed, if it was altered and other factors. There will be a detailed final report showing the item being examined, the handwriting samples used, and documenting the process of examination and analysis. The examiner keeps all notes, tests and other work product in case he is called to testify in the future.

Most forensic document examiners charge about $200-$500 an hour, and most evaluations take at least four hours. Some take 10, 20 hours or more.

When You Buy an Autograph Authenticated by Christopher Morales,
Are You Getting the Forensic Examination Promised?
Or Simply a Rubber Stamp?

These notes from a March 2011 small claims court trial may give you an idea.

Judge Lovert Bassett purchased about $7,500 in classic horror signed photos from Bryan Slaven of Autograph Central. Judge Bassett had them examined by PSA/DNA, who felt they were forgeries. Slaven refused to refund Judge Bassett's money. In Illinois, you can be awarded legal fees and court costs in small claims cases where fraud is established, so the judge hired an attorney and went full-bore after Slaven. [Lovert Bassett vs. Bryan Slaven, Case No. 10 SC 3866]

There was a hearing on March 11, 2011 in Waukegan, Ill. Morales was Slaven's expert witness, brought in to testify that his forensic document examination determined that the autographs on the photos were genuine. A potential witness attending the hearing sent us his notes from the trial, which were lightly edited to make them easier to follow:

Defendant, Brian Slaven did not appear at the hearing.

Forensic Document Examiner, Christopher L. Morales appeared at the hearing on behalf of the Defendant.

Christopher L. Morales said he ended his employment with the Dept. of Justice roughly 12 to 13 years ago and began self-employment at that time, saying he also continued to do contract work for the government. Morales said he still does contract work for the government. In the note taker's opinion, Morales was clearly implying that he is being hired by the government.

The presiding judge was Michael Fusz.

Gary Manges was Judge Bassett's counsel. 

Robert Ritacca was Bryan Slaven's counsel.


Judge Fusz asked Morales what kind of contract work he did for the government.

Morales answered that he does developmental programs, saying the work is done through USAID.

Judge Fusz asked Morales what government agency hired him.

Morales answered that he's contracted for developmental programs contracted by the Dept. of Justice.

Judge Fusz: When work is done through USAID doesn't the government hire contractors who then sub-contract personnel? In fact, Mr. Morales, would it be correct to say that you weren't hired by the government to do contract work, but in fact you were hired by a contractor who was hired by the government?

Morales: That is correct.

Judge Fusz asked Morales when he'd last done work for the government.

Morales answered that he'd recently just completed doing work for the government.

Judge Fusz asked Morales where that work was done.

Morales answered that he did that work in Guatelmala for the Police Academy.

Attorney Mages asked Morales if he'd been employed by George Washington University (GWU).

Morales: Yes.

Mages asked Morales when he worked at GWU.

Morales answered that it was in the mid-90's, approximately '95 to '99.

Mages: What work did you do for GWU?

Morales answered he'd been a faculty advisor, an adjunct professor, that he gave tours, and briefed new students.

Mages asked if Morales instructed Forensic Document Examination classes at GWU?

Morales said he did teach the class when the instructor asked Morales to fill-in for him. Morales also said he had assisted the instructor in teaching the class.

Mages asked Morales if he was paid by GWU for teaching.

Morales answered he was not paid by GWU for teaching.

Mages asked Morales how long he's done forensic authentication work for Autograph Central and its owner Bryan Slaven.

Morales answered that he's done work for Slaven for 5 to 6 years.

Mages asked Morales what he charges Slaven for each of Morales's forensic examinations of memorabilia.

Morales answered $75. Morales said he charges different rates to different dealers who hire him based on how long he's done work for the dealer and how much work the dealer gives him. Morales also said he also charges different rates for different industries.

Mages: How many examinations do you do for Mr. Slaven per year?

Morales: Approximately 15-20 pieces per year.

Mages stated at a rate of $75 for 20 pieces is approximately $1,500 annually.

Morales: That's correct. Morales further answered that rate pertains to the memorabilia industry.

Mages asked how much it cost him to attend the hearings.

Morales: Approximately $2,000, even more when you consider the hotel, but he wasn't staying at a hotel. Morales said that Slaven is paying his expenses related to these hearings.

Mages asked how long it takes Morales to complete his forensic examinations.

Morales: It depends on how many writings there are.

Mages asked how long it takes to examine each signature.

Morales: Approximately 2 to 3 hours.

Mages asked how many dealers Morales does forensic authentication work in memorabilia for.

Morales answered approximately 6 to 8 dealers, saying he does more work for other dealers than Bryan Slaven.

Mages asked if Morales kept notes of his time for each examination.

Morales answered that he keeps a scan of the signatures he authenticates along with a copy of his report. Morales does not keep other notes. He either passes the piece or not.

Mages asked what detail Morales provides in his report as to how Morales arrived at his findings and conclusions.

Morales answered that pass or fail is pretty much accepted in the memorabilia industry, compared to other industries, which require a "full-blown" report. Morales considers his reports acceptable forensic reports.


Morales said he's issued more than 17,000 certificates of authenticity pertaining to memorabilia, saying each of his COAs display a sequentially numbered hologram sticker identifying the item.


Mages read the "Objective Statement" listed on Morales's COAs: "To determine whether or not the signature on the paper is genuine." He then compared it to "Morales's Results of Forensic Comparison" statement listed on his COA: "Based on the principles of forensic handwriting comparison, the questioned signature on the paper appears to be genuine."

Mages stated that "is" and "appears to be" are two completely different findings, and asked Morales if he understood this difference.

Morales reluctantly acknowledged that there is a difference.

Morales said he's appeared in 8 to 10 court hearings as a "court-qualified" forensic document examiner expert.

Morales said he gets his "known writings" exemplars from the Library of Congress, Baseball HOF, private collectors, the Smithsonian Museum; and from a handwriting guide-book.

Judge Fusz: Did the Smithsonian Museum let you take the "known writings" out of the museum?

Morales: No.

Judge Fusz: Did you do your examination right there in the Smithsonian?

Morales: No.

Judge Fusz: Then how were you able to use the Smithsonian's "known writings" for your examination?

Morales answered that he'd taken a picture of the Smithsonian's "known writing."

Judge Fusz: So in your examination you didn't compare the signatures against the actual "known writing," you compared it against a picture. Is that your testimony?

Morales: Yes.

Judge Fusz asked Morales if the "known writings" he'd gotten from private collectors were supported by certificates of authenticity.

Morales: No.

Judge Fusz: How did you know these "known writings" were in fact authentic "known writings?"

Morales: Because they're from a private collection.

Judge Fusz: That doesn't mean that they're authentic "known writings" just because they're from a private collection, does it Mr. Morales?

Morales: No.

Judge Fusz identified Defendant's Exhibits 13 and 15 as Morales's "known writings" exemplars, which Morales had testified were his work product used to authenticate Lovert Bassett's items.

Judge Fusz asked Morales where he'd gotten these "known writings" from?

Morales said that they were contracts, checks, and he'd gotten some of them from a handwriting guide book.

Judge Fusz: What's the name of the handwriting guide book?

Morales: It's the "Autograph Collector's Handbook."

Judge Fusz asked Morales when the book was published.

Morales said it was published by Krause Publishing about 10 years ago.

Judge Fusz asked Morales who authored this book.

Morales didn't know the name of the author.

Judge Fusz asked Morales what the author's qualifications were regarding handwriting.

Morales didn't know the author's qualifications.

Judge Fusz: Then we really don't know that these known writings you used as your work product to authenticate Mr. Bassett's items are in fact authentic known writings, do we?

Morales: No.

Judge Fusz asked Morales how he determined the signed contracts and checks were in fact "known writings."

Morales: Because they're accepted writings that were done through the course of doing business.

Judge Fusz: How do you know that the signatures weren't signed by his [Bela Lugosi's] wife, or his manager, or by someone else?

Morales: Because they're accepted writings done through the course of doing business.

Judge Fusz asked Morales if he had documentation or certificates of authenticity proving these "known writings" as such.

Morales said he did not.

Judge Fusz: Then we don't know that these "known writings" you used as your work product to authenticate Mr. Bassett's items are in fact known writings do we?

Morales answered no.

Judge Fusz refused to accept Defendant's Exhibit 13 and Exhibit 15 and ordered that all testimony by Morales related to these exhibits be stricken from the record. [Meaning that the "known writings" Christopher Morales used and his related expert testimony were thrown out.]

Mages asked Morales whether the signatures could have been traced.

Morales said their was no guide for tracing. Morales said he tried tracing the signatures with a cartridge pen, but it couldn't be done effectively because of the double-nib.

Judge Fusz stated that he has knowledge of cartridge pens and many other types of pens from being involved in the hobby.

Mages asked if Morales did ink analysis on these signature.

Morales: I looked at the ink.

Mages asked again if Morales did an ink analysis of the signatures.

Morales said he did, but had no record of the ink analysis.

• Mages then questioned Lovert Bassett.

• Closing Statements from Gary Mages, then from Robert Ritacca.

• Judge Fusz will provide his decision in a hearing scheduled on Friday, 8 April 2011, at 1:30 p.m. in the same courtroom.

Views: 5011

Tags: autograph, bela, bryan, central, christopher, classic, forgeries, horror, legosi, morales, More…slaven

Comment by scott on March 22, 2011 at 12:29pm

There sure are a lot of interesting things going on in the autograph industry.  I am glad to see Mr. Morales has another court appearance to add to his resume.  I am very sad that Mr. Slaven did not have time to make it to his court date.  

 

It seems like Mr. Bassett is making some serious claims about the quality of Mr. Slaven's merchandise.  I wonder why Mr. Slaven did not think it was important enough to attend?  Maybe he has some kind of court/prison phobia.

Comment by Christopher Williams on March 22, 2011 at 1:03pm
So let's see.  This month Mr. Morales "authenticated" 134 items for Coach's Corner.  At a minimum of two hours per signature that means he spent 268 hours "authenticating" signatures just for Coach's Corner.   There are 720 hours in a 30 day month.   That means that Mr. Morales spent thirty-seven percent of one month's hours to cert signature just for Coach's Corner.  Let's say he spends six hours a day sleeping.  That's 180 hours.   But Mr. Morales only certs 15-20 pieces a year for Slaven.  I also know for a fact that Morales certs a ton of stuff for another auction site.  The numbers just don't look right, Mr. Morales.
Comment by Christopher Williams on March 22, 2011 at 1:42pm

Very impressive responses, Mr. Morales.  Let me see.  When the judge asked "If you did a ink analysis" you replied "I looked at the ink."  What the heck does that mean!!!???  When the judge asked you, Mr Morales "Whether the signatures could have been traced" you replied "There was no guide for tracing."   Wow!!!

But Mr. Morales did purchase a copy of the book "Autograph Collector's Handbook."  And he took photographs of signatures at the Smithsonian Museum" for his exemplar database.  

Mr. Morales, did you authenticate the below sigs from photos you took at the Smithsonian?

 

Comment by john reznikoff on March 22, 2011 at 2:51pm
A guess that if this transcript is indeed accurate....this will end in criminal charges of perjury against Morales, and perhaps that will be just the beginning.
Comment by Steve Cyrkin, Community Manager on March 22, 2011 at 3:36pm
It's not a transcript...they're notes. But we're comfortable with their reliability.
Comment by Steve Cyrkin, Community Manager on March 22, 2011 at 5:05pm

Good question, George. The plaintiff's expert witness was Robin Williams, a board certified FDE from Wisconsin. I believe he determined that most or all of the signed photos had signatures already on them that were traced in pen, and in some cases, the pen's ink didn't cover all the tracings. I haven't seen them yet, but I expect to after the judge makes his ruling.

I don't know if the person took notes of Williams' testimony, but I'm sure it will all be availalable at some point.

Comment by Bill Panagopulos on March 22, 2011 at 5:06pm

17,000 items?!?!?! God help us...

And people wonder why collectors aren't buying this stuff anymore?

 Between incompetent (or crooked) third party authenticators, collusion, lawsuits, bogus pricing, "attack" websites, smear campaigns, etc. etc., you're better off buying swampland in the Everglades.

And believe me, this statement costs me money. I spoke with one of the most respected dealers in the industry today and he's just shaking his head...

Steve - what you wrote his heresay, not testimony, so be careful, although it certainly rings true. Morales will lose his case and come out the fool, but it will cost all of us in the long run. Maybe he can get Don Frangipani as a character witness.

 

But as they said in The Godfather: "We need a war like this every now and then to get out the bad blood..."

Right, Don Bacardi?  PS Ate at Dominick's two nights ago...it was heaven!

 

Comment by Bill Panagopulos on March 22, 2011 at 5:16pm

BTW Steve:

Ever hear back from the equally contemptable Nate?

Please put my blog back up - the public MUST be informed of this little worm's dastardly business practices. 

NATE! NATE! NATE! Marry me!

 

Comment by Steve Cyrkin, Community Manager on March 22, 2011 at 5:19pm

Bill,

The hobby isn't about dealers. It's about collectors.

Comment by Steve Cyrkin, Community Manager on March 22, 2011 at 6:21pm

Here's a 50th GRAMMYS guitar from Gallery of Dreams in California, where Morales was listed as an executive and authenticator until late 2009. It was supposedly signed by 34 artists in attendance. I'd like Morales to tell us how Celine Dion signed it when she was in South Africa at the time.

But what's really interesting is that, at 2-3 hours a signature, it should have taken Morales 1.7 to 2.6 weeks to authenticate the guitar—and I believe they sold at least 25 of them. That's 10-15 months to do all the guitars...in California.

BTW, the GRAMMYS said they did not create the logo or license it. Anyone with one of these guitars has contraband.

Click to enlarge:

 

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