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The Press of Atlantic City, (NJ)

August 2, 2001

Author: AISLING SWIFT Staff Writer, (609) 272-7209

[]A Northfield attorney whose license was suspended for a year by the Supreme Court for deceit and gross neglect has been suspended again for record-keeping violations and lying to ethics investigators during a Cumberland County probe.

The Supreme Court, on June 25, suspended Thomas John Forkin, 37, a former Atlantic City assistant solicitor and Bridgeton attorney, for three months, but ruled that the suspension be served concurrently, not on top of his one-year suspension, as the court’s Disciplinary Review Board, or DRB, had recommended.

The local ethics committee urged a six-month concurrent suspension.

Before Forkin is reinstated, he must provide proof, by a certified mental health professional, of fitness to practice law and undergo two years of supervision by a proctor. He is eligible for reinstatement on May 29, 2002.

Forkin, an attorney for six years, escaped disbarment because one incident involving temporary misappropriation of $1,000 involved a client who had asked him to do a favor as a friend. The DRB found that his unethical conduct didn’t occur while he was acting as a lawyer.

The DRB discounted Forkin’s explanation for his unethical conduct – that it was prompted by alcoholism (mixed with the anti-depressant Prozac) and severe depression after his father’s death in 1996.

“We are … troubled by (Forkin’s) continuous dishonest conduct, despite his being involved in the disciplinary process at the time,” the DRB decision says. “Furthermore, the misrepresentations occurred after (he) had allegedly stopped using alcohol. Therefore, he cannot deflect responsibility for them to his drinking problem.”

In April, the court suspended Forkin’s license for shutting down his Bridgeton practice, neglecting three clients, and deceiving a Cumberland County judge and law clerk about a Mercedes he sold two days after a bank targeted it for repossession. That case involved a forged duplicate title.

This case involves a forged and notarized signature, among other charges. In this case, the local District IV Ethics Committee recommended he be reprimanded for negligent misappropriation of funds, failing to notify a client or third person that he had received funds, record-keeping violations, deceit, dishonesty and fraud, including lying during a disciplinary matter.

Legal papers give the following account:

In 1997, Robin Bertucci, a high school acquaintance, gave Forkin a $500 retainer to represent her in a custody case. That month, Forkin also represented a friend of hers, Shane Zane, in a criminal matter. Bertucci had posted his $1,000 bail. Zane then moved into an apartment in Forkin’s home and performed work for him, such as serving summonses.

When a Cumberland County grand jury found no cause for charges against Zane, Bertucci asked Forkin to retrieve her bail money because she was busy. In March, Forkin submitted a bail form assigning the $1,000 to himself. That form had Bertucci’s forged, notarized signature.

He cashed the check on March 17, 1997, and on April 25, 1997, gave Bertucci a check, with the notation, “Return of Bail $1,000 to be transferred from Attorney Trust.” However, he had never placed the money in his trust account or business account. The check bounced.

Forkin then sent her a bill for $1,300, although he already told her the retainer had covered the work. After being assured he’d pay her and then repeatedly trying to reach him, Bertucci filed a complaint with the police. Forkin then assigned her unpaid bill to a collections agency. In August 1997, he paid her $1,000, dropped the demand for legal fees and she dropped the complaint.

When the ethics committee investigated, Forkin lied and said he paid her in May, called himself a victim of a vindictive client and claimed she didn’t reply to his demands so he contacted a collection agency.

He denied notarizing or signing the bail form and suggested the notary or Zane did it. He claimed he was an alcoholic and didn’t remember which account he’d deposited the check in.

The investigation didn’t uncover whether Forkin signed and notarized it, but noted that the notary stamp had been left in a drawer in his office. The investigation showed that he hadn’t maintained his attorney trust or business accounts, as required.

The DEC called his actions “particularly troubling” because he was in the midst of another ethics investigation.

Record Number:  0108020104