Thomas Phinney might be the world’s most specialized expert witness: a document forensics expert focused specifically on fonts and typography.
Somebody who identifies backdated forged documents by their use of fonts that didn’t exist yet, or testifies as to the exact point size of text (when there’s a legal requirement around point size).
Yes, somebody actually does this for a living, and tackles cases worldwide.
Font Detective LLC
Portland OR, USA
Toll-free (in US/Canada): 1–833-FONTGUY (1−833−366−8489)
What He Does
Phinney does a range of things, but the single most common request is to identify backdated documents by their use of a font that didn’t exist yet. The single most common problem font? Calibri, because it was a brand new typeface in 2007 when it became the new default font in Microsoft Word.
Point size is a distant second for “most common issue” in Phinney’s case history. Sometimes documents have a legally required point size, especially contracts or other documents that are legally binding in some way. But surprisingly, there is no simple single thing in a printed document you can just measure and say that equals the point size. But if you know the font, you can figure it out….
Thomas Phinney has focused on fonts since the 90s, with a degree in printing (specializing in design and typography) and over a decade working for in the font group at Adobe. He had his first case in 1999, with a backdated forged will. But for years he kept on doing other font jobs as his main work, with expert witness and “detective” work as an exciting but small sideline. After much gradual increase over the years, an article in Wired boosted his profile in 2017, his new dedicated web site did more in 2018, and nationwide Canadian media coverage of his work in a Toronto case continued the trend in early 2019.
In mid-2019, Phinney left his day job as CEO of FontLab to focus on his new-yet-old global career as a font detective, as well as continuing to design fonts.
- Recognized (including by Microsoft) as the world’s top expert on the history and availability timeline of Calibri as it relates to questioned documents
- Almost always works solo. Twice been brought into a case by another forensic expert; twice has gotten help on a font ID.
- Phinney has four patents (two solo, and two jointly)
- First Adobe employee to have both a design patent and a utility patent.
- At least half his cases involve backdated documents
- First case: “the Wicked Will,” 1999, Monterey, California. Also Phinney’s first time delivering expert testimony in court.
- Relied on the identification of high-res inkjet printing, rather than the font itself.
- The overwhelming majority of his expert witness cases settle out of court. Most have never been made public—including his three largest cases.
- Highest-profile public case with sworn affidavit?
- PK Music Performance v Justin Timberlake and Will Adams a.k.a. will.i.am (settled 2019)
- Consultations with the media are generally public, however. These include:
- Pakistani PM (2017) Prime Minister of Pakistan lost his office and went to jail over this forgery.
- The Presidential Plot (2004): Forged document that impugned President Bush’s Air National Guard service
(subject of the 2015 film “Truth” starring Cate Blanchett, with Robert Redford as Dan Rather)
- Bullet Bob Hayes & Pro Football Hall of Fame (2009). Forged letter from deceased NFL star & Olympic gold medalist.
- Most distant cases with sworn affidavits: Poland (2019), Australia (multiple)
- Only client who never paid was based in: South Africa
- Phinney was once given a corporate credit card … just weeks after giving sworn testimony against the same credit card company in a lawsuit
- Once gave sworn testimony by telephone, for a FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) arbitration hearing.
- Logo (coming soon):
- black on transparent
- white on black
- black on white