Disbarred attorney pleads guilty to forging records

By Lawrence Smith | Aug 7, 2009

CHARLESTON - The Kanawha County Prosecutor's Office has reached a plea agreement with a disbarred attorney in his use of forged documents in a former client's civil suit.

John E. Lutz Jr., 65, on June 30 pled guilty to a charge of information he forged a public document. In exchange for his guilty plea to the charge, a misdemeanor, the prosecutor's office asked that the pending charge of forgery and uttering, a felony, be dismissed.

Records show Kanawha Circuit Judge Louis H. "Duke" Bloom dismissed the forgery and uttering charge on July 2. The charge had been pending against Lutz since March 2008 after he waived a preliminary hearing, and it was bound over to the grand jury.

A lie exposed

In the original criminal complaint filed against him in Kanawha Magistrate Court, Lutz was accused of forging Judge Irene C. Berger's signature to a proposed settlement in a property dispute he was handling for Consulacion "Connie" and Merrill Bergstedt. The Bergstedts hired Lutz in 2003 to sue the realtors who sold them their home on Anaconda Drive in Charleston for water damage the house sustained when pipes froze after a winter storm, and later ruptured.

Court records show that Berger, who assigned the Bergstedt case, dismissed two of the three defendants in February 2007. Ten months later, Connie Bergstedt said Lutz showed up at her new home on Shadybrook Road in Charleston presenting her with a document purporting to be a settlement, and informing her a hearing on it was scheduled for February 2008.

A few days later when she was downtown on unrelated business, Bergstedt took a copy of the proposed settlement to Berger's office. When Berger's secretary said no hearing was scheduled for February, she asked Bergstedt for the document Lutz gave her.

Berger confirmed that both the document, and her signature were a fake, and she would refer the matter to police, Bergstedt said.

Records show Lutz was arrested, and charged on March 15, 2008. He was released on $1,000 personal recognizance bond.

Facing consequences

In November, the state Supreme Court disbarred Lutz. The Court's decision came at Lutz's request that his license be voluntary annulled.

According to court records, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the investigative arm of the state Bar, faxed a request to the Kanawha County Circuit Clerk's Office in August 2008 asking for a copy of the entire forgery and uttering file on Lutz. About that same time, four of Lutz's former clients filed ethics complaints against him including one woman who alleged he took the money she paid him to file a divorce petition only to use it to support a drug habit.

Last June, record show Bloom granted Lutz permission to enter a 90-day rehabilitation program for alcohol dependency in Williamsburg, Va.

In its plea offer, the prosecutor's office said it would recommend he be placed on probation. In a letter dated July 28, the Bergstedts were notified that, since they were victims, they were welcome to appear at Lutz's sentencing, and inform the court how Lutz's conduct impacted them.

Records show Lutz is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 12 before Judge Charles E. King Jr.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 09-M-55

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