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Forensics imaging, Photo analysis

At the Round Table with Imaging Forensics Expert, George Reis

August 25, 2023

In this episode…

Cross-examination prep is important to our guest, Mr. George Reis.  He explains, “[the attorney] prepped me by asking rapid-fire questions . . . No time to get a break. No time to think.” He advises, “I do find sometimes I begin to talk fast, and I try to just remind myself, slow down a little bit.”

Additional topics include continuing education, turning down cases, and being humble. Mr. Reis recommends, “ . . . knowing what you know and what you don’t know . . . when you’re writing a report, don’t include something that you don’t know.”

Episode Transcript:

Note:   Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Host:   Noah Bolmer, Round Table Group

Guest: George Reis, Owner at Imaging Forensics

Noah Bolmer: Welcome to Discussions at the Round Table. I am your host Noah Bolmer, and today I am excited to welcome George Reis. He is the owner of Imaging Forensics, which provides forensic analysis for a wide range of media, including video digital images and photographs. He has been an expert witness for a dozen actions in the United States and abroad, and he is a published author. Mr. Reis, thank you so much for joining me here today.

George Reis: It is my pleasure, Noah. Thanks for inviting me.

Noah Bolmer: Absolutely, George. Let’s jump into it. You started Imaging Forensics in 2004, is that right?

George Reis: Yes, it is.

Noah Bolmer: You were a crime scene investigator before that. How have you always had a passion for forensic analysis?

George Reis: Early on, I was a photojournalist. I worked for a local newspaper for a couple of years, and then as an AS staff photographer for the Los Angeles Times for a few years. I started my own business, went broke, and then had to get a job. I saw an ad in the classified newspapers for a police photographer at the Newport Beach Police Department. I decided to do that for a year. Get back on my feet and do something else but ended up falling in love with it.

Noah Bolmer: How did you get from taking photographs to becoming a forensic expert?

George Reis: When I got hired at Newport Beach in 1989 everything was film related. In 1992, Kodak introduced a 1.4-megapixel digital camera that was only $10,000, and I convinced my department to…

Noah Bolmer: How is that all?

George Reis: I convinced our department to buy one, and with that, I started photographing fingerprints and enhancing them. Through doing that work, I started speaking at conferences and I started consulting with other police agencies and private businesses while still working at the police department. That led to analyzing photographs and analysis of videos.

Noah Bolmer: In Hollywood, when somebody says enhance and a computer makes it better. That is not how it works. We have someone like you back there doing the real work.

George Reis: Is that right? I keep looking for that easy button or that CSI button, but I haven’t found it yet.

Noah Bolmer: How did you turn all of that experience in photography and forensics into a career in expert witnessing? What was your first engagement as an expert witness? Were you advertising for that, or did somebody just approach you?

George Reis: I am not certain of my first engagement, but when I was still working at the police department, I did receive some phone calls. I do not know how those attorneys found me, but I received phone calls. It could have been because I had an Internet site at the time. It is interesting, but I think I started my first Internet site well before the year 2000. In my business, I had a different name at the time. So, I had a couple of engagements while still working at the police department. I was also providing training and consulting services. At one point, I thought, I would rather not set an alarm clock, work shifts every day, and go out on my own. That is when I started my full-time business of imaging forensics, where I provide training, consulting, and being an expert witness.

Noah Bolmer: First, let’s talk about those early assignments. When you were first contacted, and you first started doing this. How did the attorneys handle the preparation? Did you feel ready for whatever it was that you were engaged to do? Were you just writing a report? Did you end up doing a deposition? What was it like early on? Is there something that you have learned going forward that you wish they had prepared you better with?

George Reis: Yes. The first cases were criminal cases. They were just outside of the jurisdiction in which I was working my day job. Those were fine because I was used to working on criminal cases. That is what I did for a living. My first civil case was a brutal 7-hour deposition. I went home at the end of the day and told my wife I felt like I had been beaten up. She said, “Maybe you should be a boxer.” In that deposition, I had no prep from the attorney. The first half of the deposition went swimmingly. Everything was great. After lunch, the second half focused on one thing. What I wrote in the report. I did not have enough knowledge and should not have written in there. That was a great lesson to learn on a first deposition. Do not put anything in your report that you do not know and cannot back up.

Noah Bolmer: Did you feel that you had some pressure from the attorney to say more than you knew, or was it just your inexperience?

George Reis: It was my inexperience. There was no pressure from that attorney. The attorney was a nice person and he said, “Hey, can you do this analysis?” I did the analysis. The one item that I mentioned. I was referring to something technical, and I could have made the same point without going into the technical aspect of this thing in the report.

Noah Bolmer: Should your attorneys have done a better job of preparing you? Have you done any mock cross- examinations?

George Reis: I have done some mock cross-examinations. In my field, most attorneys do not know how to approach either direct or cross-examination. Oftentimes, the preparation by providing obvious questions for my direct examination and suggesting to the attorneys what cross-examination questions I might expect. That is it.

The first good prep I had was for a case that was in Hawaii. I arrived three days early and met with the attorney every day. He spent much of the time going through his direct examination and reviewing the same questions repeatedly. When we got to court, he asked me different questions, and I was surprised at that, but it made everything fresh. That was quite interesting, and it was heavy-duty prep. The most recent time that I testified was in a case in London. In that case, the primary attorney I worked with prepared me by asking me rapid-fire questions. He said for arbitrations in London it is a common methodology. One question after another. No time to get a break. No time to think. That was a great way to prepare.

Noah Bolmer: That is interesting. If you are an expert and you are going to appear in court, not even out of the country certainly, but even out of the area you usually work in, things can work differently, and the laws might be different. Your attorney must prepare you for anything, especially if you are experienced and used to things going a certain way, right? They must prepare you for the differences and changes. Was there anything else interesting or unusual about working in England?

George Reis: The whole process was interesting. I appeared before a tribunal. When I was retained, the retaining counsel called me and said they were looking for names to present to the tribunal. The tribunal would be hiring independent experts directly. In this case, the tribunal could not decide who to hire. They brought it back to the law firms and said you guys each bring in your experts. There was no direct examination, but instead, I had 30 minutes to present my findings in whatever way I wished to do so. That was followed by an hour and a half of cross-examination.

Noah Bolmer: Did you feel well prepared for that? Did your attorney make it clear what was going to happen and what to expect?

George Reis: They made everything clear. They were a great firm to work with and there were two different law firms from two different countries with multiple attorneys. I had several Zoom meetings in advance, and they went through everything. I felt well prepared, and I like giving a narrative when I testify. I know many people say you should not. I always ask the attorneys if I get asked this or that question is it alright if I give a narrative as a response? Most of the time they say, “Yes, that would be great.” In this case, that 30 minutes was a nice narrative.

Noah Bolmer: Let’s talk about cross-examination. Do you have any strategies for maintaining your composure? When you are being grilled. You said that your first time it was something like six or seven hours of being grilled in court. How do you stay calm, cool, and collected while staying within the confines of your expertise? Do you have any advice or strategies?

George Reis: Other than drinking heavily before.

Noah Bolmer: A couple bottles of Scotch.

George Reis: I generally have a calm demeanor, so I do not necessarily prepare. I do find that sometimes I begin to talk fast, and I try to remind myself to slow down. I get excited about what I do, and I love telling people what I do. I think the other thing I do is when in court, especially during a jury trial, I think of myself as being at a social event, and that I have a group of people around me that are saying can you tell me about a case you worked on? Then, no matter who is asking me the question and what tone they use when asking the question. I turn and look at my group of friends and tell them about what I am working on.

Noah Bolmer: That is a good jumping-off point. Do you have any interesting or memorable cases, which could be a lesson for newer experts?

George Reis: I have worked on some interesting cases, but I am trying to think of one where I might pass along some good information to a new expert. I will say the most interesting cases I have worked on have been military cases, and the reason for that is they bring the entire team for the whole trial. You are there from opening arguments until sentencing. The entire team works together and gets together at every break. You are working with medical experts, computer experts, psychologists, and DNA experts. You are all inputting with each other. You get to see many others practice. How they approach things, which leads to a bit of advice for someone new. Something I did early in my career while working at the police department. I would watch some of our officers testify before I ever got called in. I would also go to court and watch any case that I could, and hopefully, there would be an expert testifying. I have seen dentists and others from various fields testify, which was beneficial. I also have friends and mentors who are in fields outside of my own, which tends to be helpful to me.

Noah Bolmer: Any specific stories? Anything interesting that has happened?

George Reis: I liked the very first case I worked on. After I turned in my notice at the police department on my last day of work, I am driving home my cell phone rang, and it was a Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office wanting to retain me on a case in which the actress Cameron Diaz was being distorted for $1,000,000.  I thought it was going to be a case that would lead to a ton of publicity and that my future would be set. There was not near as much publicity as I hoped there would be, but it was a good case. Adobe company, which makes Photoshop, recommended me to the District Attorney for the case because the case involved the use of Photoshop to forge a model release. They forged Cameron Diaz’s signature onto the model release. That was an interesting case because of who was involved and the timing of it.

Noah Bolmer: Right.

George Reis: That was interesting. I work on many cases that involve police shootings, which oftentimes are interesting. In one of the cases, two police officers were firing guns from a moving vehicle. I think they fired over 50 or 60 rounds during this chase. That was interesting and unexpected. I do a number of those, and I was going to say, I get a wide variety of cases and each one is interesting to me because there is a different story behind it. Different things happen. I work on both civil and criminal cases, which mixes things up a bit.

Noah Bolmer: How do you remain an expert in forensics or any field? If you want to keep getting hired, you have to keep learning. You have to maintain that expertise you are talking about. Early in your career you accidentally said too much. That was beyond your expertise. What does it mean to you to be an expert and remain an expert?

George Reis: I think training is the key thing. I continue my education and have been certified in my field. I am certified in forensic photography and forensic video analysis. Those certifications required a substantial amount of training and continuing education. When I first started in this business full-time, I went and sought training from a field of expert witnesses. I learned about report writing, depositions, testimony, and cross-examination training in the field of expert witnessing. Where I live in Southern California, several other experts and I have started a group that gets together every month. We share a glass of wine and talk about the expert cases that we have had. The things we have learned, and we invite attorneys, other experts, and judges to come and speak to our group regularly.

Noah Bolmer: That is interesting. Has that been an effective strategy for you so far? Have you received any work or improved your expertise in some way by doing so? Is that something that you would recommend to other experts?

George Reis: I would highly recommend it. There used to be a national organization that featured these regular meetings. They no longer do that, so we started our own. One of my early mentors whom I continue to talk to and get information from is a cement, digital photography, and digital video analysis expert. I mean for goodness’ sake, what fields could be further apart?  He has shared information about his work and what he has done. Another person is a dirt expert, so moving dirt, grading, and things of that nature. He shares a lot of information with me. Psychology and computer forensics experts are part of our group. All these fields come in and they talk about how they approach something. What do their reports and retention agreements look like? How did they take that initial phone call from the attorney? What information did they want to get? All these things are incredibly helpful.

Noah Bolmer: You were talking about writing reports. How do you stay within the confines of the report? I have heard that this can sometimes go off the rails if they do not tell you exactly what they need to know. What do they expect and how much do they expect? How do you manage your attorney? Do you ask them many affirmative questions like “Do I need to do this?” or “Do I need to do that?” Do you go with it? What is your typical strategy in report writing?

George Reis: When I get retained by an attorney, I ask, “What is the scope of my assignment?” and I try to stay within that scope. If things come up during my analysis, that point to some other direction, I contact the attorney, I say, “Hey, I am finding this. They might be interesting avenues to pursue. Would you like me to pursue them?” They say yes or no, whatever it happens to be. Then at the end, I give them a verbal report. In that verbal report, I say, “Here are my findings. These things might be beneficial to your case and these things might be harmful to your case.” We discuss it and then from there, I write the report. I always write it fairly and I always include my findings in the particular case from the direction of who has hired me. In most cases, I find attorneys want to know the things that are going to be harmful to their case as early as possible. That way they can figure out how they want to strategize for that information.

Noah Bolmer: Do you find attorneys are receptive to what you tell them, or do you get some pushback from time to time?

George Reis: I try to only work for attorneys that will not give me pushback. In my initial call, the most important thing I do is measure the personality of the attorney. If I think we are not going to get along, they will want me to go in a certain direction, or they will be argumentative, I will refer them to someone else or turn down the assignment. I indicate that I am too busy at that time.

Noah Bolmer: Have you turned down a significant number of engagements?

George Reis: I probably turned down half the calls that I get.

Noah Bolmer: No kidding. That many?

George Reis: I think so. My wife jokes when she overhears any of my phone calls, she says, “So did you get out of another job?”

Noah Bolmer: Does any of that have to do with winning the case? Is it important to you that your side has a good chance or better at winning the case? Or is it just more a matter of you do not feel that your expertise is appropriate, or are you going to get too much pushback from the attorney?

George Reis: I could care less whether I am on the winning side or not. I give the attorney the information that I find, and I assume that it is going to benefit them and determine their strategy. If it is harmful or helpful to their client and they use me in court, that is not an issue for me. Knowing that I am going to have a relationship with this attorney that may last a couple of years, or may last only a couple of hours, I want to make sure that I spend time with people who I like and get along with. That is probably the most important thing to me. Eliminating that pushback, and the “I want this.” and “I want you to testify to such and such.” I will not work for someone like that.

Noah Bolmer: Pivoting back to expertise, we spoke before the show and you mentioned that you thought it might be helpful, which is why I am bringing it up, that you do not have a degree. That is not necessarily required to make a career as an expert. Can you talk about that a little?

George Reis: In my field of forensic video analysis, photographic analysis, and photography there are no degrees. I am going to back up from that for just a moment. There is now a master’s program at the University of Colorado at Denver that deals with the Forensic Multimedia Examination. That is an outstanding program that is available, but that is the only degree program in my specific field. We do have certifications within my field and having the certification is beneficial but not required. When I go to court, with other experts opposing, it is common for people not to have degrees or certifications.

Noah Bolmer: It is the experience itself that matters, not necessarily, although it can be important for certain experts that you have a degree. Someone can have a long, fulfilling career as an expert without a specific degree in that area.

George Reis: I started my expert business in 2004 and I am busy. I have the luxury of turning down work and my career has been good, and I have been enjoying it.

Noah Bolmer: Before we go, I would like to go over winding up an engagement. Do you typically track the case’s progress once you have done your part? Do you continue to speak with the attorney? Do you follow the case? How do you find out or do you even care when the case has been wrapped up?

George Reis: I generally do not care and as a matter of fact. I have to say when I get retained on cases, I oftentimes do not even know which side I am representing.

Noah Bolmer: Is that right?

George Reis: I might have asked and then just forgot. I do not know but in the end, if I worked on a particularly interesting case, or if it was a case, I was very involved in, then I do like to have the follow-up. Any of my cases just require three, four, or five hours’ worth of work, a call with my findings, and a short report. Then, I am done with it and that is fine. The longer cases that go for months and the cases that involve dozens of hours as opposed to a handful of hours. I do get curious to know how they went. Generally, the attorneys just go ahead and call me and say, “Hey, just wanted to let you know this went this way.” or whatever it happens to be.

Noah Bolmer: Do you strictly bill hourly? Have you ever had any difficulties getting paid when a case winds up?

George Reis: I have only had trouble getting paid a couple of times in 18 years, or however long I have been doing this work. Those have been the times when I have not handled the billing and the invoicing properly. I get a retainer on all cases, and when the retainer starts running short, then the retainer gets replenished. That almost always works well with insurance-based cases. That does not always happen, and that is okay. Insurance pays for it, but it takes a long time. From a standpoint of just making sure that everything is clear, get the retainer and then make sure that when the retainer is becoming depleted that it gets renewed, and everything works out.

Noah Bolmer: Is working on a retainer something that you would recommend for new or interested expert witnesses?

George Reis: I think it is the most sensible way to approach it because number one you do not want to have to wait multiple months for that money, especially when you are starting. Number 2, there have been those two or three times when I did not recover payment and those fortunately were small, but they are not fun.

Noah Bolmer: Any last-minute advice for attorneys or experts themselves, in particular new experts who might not have your level of experience yet?

George Reis: I think the main thing is to always listen to what the attorneys say when they call. Know and understand the scope and thoroughly understand that because it is important to stay within the scope. Then, I think another important thing is knowing what you know and what you do not know. When you are writing a report, do not include something that you do not know. When you are asked questions and you do not know the answer the 3 words, “I don’t know”, are perfect. There is nothing wrong with that. Then always when you are in court, listen to the questions you are being asked, make sure that you understand them, and answer the question that is being asked.

Noah Bolmer: George, thank you for joining me today. I appreciate your time.

George Reis: It is my pleasure.

Noah Bolmer: Thanks to our listeners for joining us for another Discussions at the Round Table. Cheers.

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After a quarter century helping litigators find the right expert witnesses, Round Table Group’s network contains some of the world’s greatest experts. On the Discussions at the Round Table podcast, we talk to some of them about what’s new in their field of study and their experience as expert witnesses.

At the Round Table with Imaging Forensics Expert, George Reis

George Reis, Owner at Imaging Forensics

George Reis, owner of Imaging Forensics, a forensic analysis firm specializing in media including video, digital images, and photographs. He is a sought-after expert that has testified approximately 90 times, including over 50 times in court. Additionally, Mr. Reis is the author of Photoshop for Forensics Experts.