A New Jersey appeals court has refused to overturn the conviction and seven-year prison sentence handed to a disbarred Monmouth County attorney and failed political candidate who a jury decided misappropriated more than $100,000 from an estate.
A three-judge Appellate Division panel in an unpublished decision brushed aside a slew of objections raised by the ex-lawyer, Eugene Lavergne, to how his 2014 trial was handled.
While there were errors during the trial made by the judge and prosecutors, none warranted setting aside the conviction for second-degree misappropriation of entrusted property and fourth-degree contempt, wrote Appellate Division Judge Greta Gooden Brown, joined by Judges Marie Simonelli and Michael Haas.
Meanwhile, Lavergne’s counsel has vowed to appeal the case further.
Deputy Attorney General Evgeniya Sitnikova, who handled the appeal for the state, issued a statement.
“We are pleased that the Appellate Division affirmed defendant’s convictions and sentence. Mr. Lavergne received a fair trial and was justly convicted of abusing the trust placed in him as an attorney by stealing well over $100,000 from his clients. This seven-year prison sentence should deter other attorneys from betraying their fiduciary duties in such an egregious manner,” Sitnikova said.
Lavergne’s attorney, Wall solo Robert Pierce, said he was “sort of in shock” from the ruling, given what he said were the numerous trial errors, ranging from the erroneous admission of evidence to issues of prosecutorial conduct.
“We intend to file for certification to the Supreme Court immediately,” Pierce said.
Lavergne, meanwhile, remains free on $85,000 bail on the condition that he not leave the country.
Lavergne was disbarred shortly after his sentence.
Lavergne, while under indictment, ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014 on a combined Democratic-Republican Party ticket, but was handily defeated by Democrat Cory Booker.
He also ran for U.S. Senate in 2012 as the “No Slogan Party” candidate.
Lavergne’s legal woes began in July 2006, when Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cavanagh Jr. put him in charge of selling a marina in Avon-by-the-Sea.
The marina eventually sold for $800,000 and, after taxes and expenses were deducted, $502,193 was deposited into his attorney trust account, according to the ruling. Cavanagh ordered Lavergne to withhold at least $200,000 while other legal issues were pending.
Over the next several months, authorities said, Lavergne made at least 130 unauthorized withdrawals—totaling more than $108,000—from the trust fund and used the funds for personal purposes, according to the ruling.
At the time, Lavergne said the charges, brought by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, were “frivolous.”
He did not present any defense witnesses at his trial, according to the appeals court ruling.
Lavergne had been in ethics trouble before his criminal case. In 2011, the New Jersey Supreme Court censured and kept him on indefinite suspension for failing to surrender files to a client who had fired him.