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Robert Triffin has a law degree but has never been able to practice in New Jersey. The state Supreme Court, which has denied him a license due to character flaws, calls him a fraud artist and deadbeat with little respect for truth and the judicial system. That has not kept the 52-year-old Pennsylvania man out of the New Jersey courts. In fact, Triffin is probably more active than any litigator statewide. He has filed more than 2,000 suits as a pro se plaintiff since 1991, all in the Special Civil Part and in every county. Most, 1,757, have been filed since 1997. He dropped 510 complaints on the court system last year alone. He also has argued nine cases before the Appellate Division pro se, winning four. Three are published opinions. Triffin has also filed hundreds of similar suits in Pennsylvania’s Court of Common Pleas. In 1993, he had about 500 pro se cases in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. Pennsylvania’s highest court has also denied his application for admission, based on acts of deceit, fraud, abuse of the legal process and neglect of financial responsibilities — several hundred thousand dollars in debt — according to court records. Since 1991, he has won more than 940 judgments, mostly in New Jersey. Triffin’s specialty is buying dishonored checks at a discount from check-cashing agencies and demanding payment from the issuer, almost always a company. If the company does not pay, he sues. A review of some of his cases shows it is not uncommon for companies to refuse payment on the grounds that the checks are counterfeit, stolen, forged, altered or signed by an unauthorized person, or those in which a stop-payment order has been issued. “Corporations don’t need judgments out there against them, and so some will pay a few hundred dollars to get rid of it,” says a lawyer familiar with such claims who asked not to be identified. But now one company is fighting back. Automated Data Processing Inc. of Roseland, with revenues of $7 billion, has countersued Triffin, charging him with fraud and negligence. ADP also alleges that he and at least two others run a racketeering enterprise under the state’s civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. ADP has been named as a defendant in a series of Triffin suits because the company is a huge payroll processor and therefore a third-party administrator. Triffin sues as the holder who has been assigned the instrument. He routinely names the company that issued the checks, the people who cashed them and anyone else who may be above him on the warranty chain, including ADP. STUMBLING ONTO A FREQUENT FILER The suit that drew ADP’s attention is typical of Triffin’s complaints. It seeks to force National Manufacturing Co. Inc. to pay on 13 checks totaling $6,729, and Mister Cookie Face Inc. to pay on five checks totaling $2,246. Thirteen people who cashed the 18 checks are also named, as is ADP. ADP’s lawyer, Dennis Kearney, of Florham Park’s Pitney, Hardin, Kipp & Szuch, says that after ADP gave him Triffin’s suit to handle, he discovered that another partner was handling a similar Triffin suit on behalf of another corporate client. “We compared notes, became intrigued, and decided to investigate,” says Kearney. In his answer and counterclaim filed in January, Kearney alleges that the National Manufacturing checks are counterfeit. The complaint charges that the assignment agreement between Triffin and the check-cashing agency, McCall’s Liquor Corp. in Newark, is fraudulent. Kearney alleges that the person who signed the agreement for McCall’s, Juan Rafael Tavera, never worked there. Tavera’s signature is on a certification that says he is a McCall’s vice president who was authorized to execute the assignment and has been at the liquor store since 1986. Yet, the counterclaim continues, people at McCall’s say he never worked there. The assignment agreement and certification are attached to Triffin’s suit, which is routine for his filings. The five checks issued by Mister Cookie Face, a Manalapan restaurant, had been cashed at Community Check Cashing Inc. in Howell, according to Triffin’s suit. According to ADP’s counterclaim, the checks were dated June 8, 2001, but weren’t cashed at the agency until May 5, 2002. A month later, Community Check proprietor Linda Avallone filed a police report that said her cashier had cashed the checks, but they were found to be counterfeit. The ADP counterclaim says Avallone told police she had called the fraud department of the bank involved because the checks looked suspicious, and was told they were fraudulent and that similar crimes involving other counterfeit checks from the restaurant had occurred in nearby Lakewood. The counterclaim goes on to say that the checks were fraudulent on their face because they were post-dated. Yet Avallone assigned the checks to Triffin at a discount and Triffin demanded payment from the restaurant. Kearney’s papers accuse Avallone of fraud by executing an assignment and by falsely asserting in her certification that she had no knowledge the checks were phony. Kearney charges Triffin, Tavera and Avallone with fraud and negligence, and with engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity. Last month Kearney moved to have the case transferred from the Special Civil Part to the Civil Part. Essex County Superior Court Judge Claude Coleman granted the motion last Thursday over Triffin’s objections. Coleman also consolidated two other Triffin suits involving checks from several companies, including Nathan’s Famous, yogurt maker TCBY and cookie maker Mrs. Fields, as well as ADP. Triffin has filed papers seeking to dismiss the RICO counts. The judge will hear the motion on March 21. Kearney says Triffin is committing a fraud on the court by submitting false certifications by Avallone and Tavera. Triffin, who works out of his home in Drexel Hill, Pa., did not return a call seeking comment. A woman answering the telephone said he was out on Thursday. Tavera, according to Kearney, is now out of the country. Avallone’s lawyer, Henry Wolff III, an Atlantic Highlands solo practitioner, says Community Check Cashing has done nothing wrong. “It would seem incredible to me that a check-cashing service would knowingly cash a check when they knew it was counterfeit,” says Wolff. Wolff says he knows Triffin and considers him very knowledgeable in the area of assignment law and the Uniform Commercial Code, “even though the judges may not like what he’s doing.” Asked who is paying his fee, Wolff says Avallone is, but adds, “she may well be indemnified” by Triffin because “there’s an indemnification issue involved.” JUDICIAL REBUKES Judges have excoriated Triffin through the years, particularly in opinions by the high courts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania that denied his applications to the bar. Triffin graduated from Temple University in 1973 and started out as a self-employed collection agent. His first judicial rebuke came in 1985 when he sued a Pennsylvania bank, Continental Bank, where he had a company account. He claimed the bank had wrongfully paid on a check, but the court ruled he had committed fraud on the bank, including a check-kiting scheme. Worse, he would not cooperate in discovery, failed to show up for a 1987 deposition and failed to show up again on orders from the judge. He was fined but failed to pay and then missed a third deposition. Finally, the court barred him from entering evidence in defense of the bank’s counterclaim. According to a ruling by a Pennsylvania appeals judge in 1988, Triffin ordered his lawyer not to appear on his behalf, yet simultaneously refused to let the lawyer withdraw from the case. Triffin also failed to appear at trial. After trial, the court found that Triffin “committed actual fraud” and entered a judgment for the bank of $99,932, which Triffin never paid. The judgment is against “Triffin a/k/a Joseph E. Murri” and his company, General Funding. Triffin sued to overturn the judgment, alleging he was denied due process, but lost. Then he sued his lawyer for malpractice. Years later, when he was trying to convince New Jersey to admit him, he told a character committee he did not show for the depositions because he was attending law school at the University of Nebraska and his mother would not loan him money to get home. But, according to the New Jersey Supreme Court, he told Pennsylvania bar examiners a different story: that he did not want to miss classes. BANKRUPTCY IRREGULARITIES Triffin graduated from law school in June 1990 and passed the New Jersey bar exam in July 1993 after taking it several times. But the New Jersey panel hearing his application to the bar also had problems with a bankruptcy filing. Triffin filed for Chapter 7 in April 1986, in the midst of the litigation with Continental Bank, on behalf of his company, General Funding. The bankruptcy judge dismissed the petition because Triffin failed to file required financial schedules. In denying his application for admission in 1997, New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Marie Garibaldi cited the bankruptcy filing. She found that Triffin “apparently liquidated General Funding’s remaining assets and abandoned his offices” to the landlord. He paid his personal car loan with proceeds from the liquidation, “then walked away from his remaining obligations.” In March 1991, during a Pennsylvania court hearing in a suit Triffin brought to recover a dishonored check, Triffin called a witness to the stand to verify the assignment. The witness was trading as Great States Leasing Inc. The judge later noted that Triffin never told the court that the witness was his mother. Moreover, his mother testified that there were no more agreements between Great States and Triffin but there were at least a dozen other assignments — another fact the court said Triffin withheld. In a 1993 Pennsylvania case in which Triffin sued a check-cashing agency, the judge disqualified him from participating after concluding that he had gained confidential information from the agency through an attorney-client relationship. Triffin, the judge found, had held himself out as a lawyer and agreed to represent the agency. Garibaldi’s decision said Triffin’s financial irresponsibility contributed to his lack of fitness to practice law. In March 1995, Triffin told the character committee he had filed no tax returns since 1984 because he had not made any money at his collection business. He told the panel that his fianc�e was helping him financially and that his mother had lent him about $300,000 for his education, living expenses, funds to buy collection accounts, and litigation. Among his many suits was an action against the seven justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and members of Pennsylvania’s Board of Examiners after he was denied admission. The case was thrown out. The New Jersey and Pennsylvania high courts also cited a Pennsylvania settlement he had reneged on; testimony from witnesses about false statements; his lack of respect for the courts; use of threats and intimidation; and his holding himself out as a lawyer. A Chemical Bank lawyer testified that Triffin had threatened that “he would buy up every piece of Chemical Bank paper on the street, and he would sue us forever” if she did not convince the bank to sell him bad paper. The bank lawyer testified further that Triffin suggested that “because [she] had been nice to him, he would waive the interest if [she] would agree to appear [at the character committee hearing] on his behalf.” The panel characterized Triffin’s actions as using “threats or bribes” to get business and favorable testimony. With more than 400,000 special civil filings each year in New Jersey, Triffin’s 500-plus seem a pittance. But in busy counties, especially Essex, he is well known, coming in weekly to argue cases. He has 40 active cases pending in Essex, says court administrator Collins Ijoma. But Ijoma adds, “We handle 25,000 cases year, so he is not breaking the system.” Besides, “We appreciate his fees.” Related charts: N.J. Special Civil Part Filings by Robert Triffin N.J. Special Civil Part Cases, By County of Filing

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