John Fahy, a former state and federal prosecutor who inexplicably committed suicide, botched a client’s employment case and concealed the error right up until his death, according to a suit filed Monday in New Jersey state court.
The plaintiff alleges that Fahy took the case, allowed the statute of limitations period to expire and then spent the next year-and-a-half lying about it—even fabricating a story that he had achieved a $1.2 million settlement.
The complaint in Thorsen v. Estate of Fahy affords a glimpse into the pressures that the prominent lawyer was facing at the time of his tragic death last July, which mystified colleagues, friends and others who knew him.
According to the Passaic County complaint, Vivien Thorsen sought out Fahy, of Fahy Choi in Rutherford, in January 2010, after she was fired from her seven-year job as an insurance broker at the MacCormack Agency in Secaucus.
Thorsen claimed that for several years she was sexually harassed, stalked and pestered by company president Frank MacCormack Jr. She told another principal but nothing was done, and MacCormack thereafter threatened her with termination and physical harm, she claimed. MacCormack and his brother, vice president Douglas MacCormack, allegedly urged her to resign, offering $15,000 severance, which she declined.
The MacCormack Agency let Thorsen go on Jan. 25, 2010, allegedly for misuse of company email. Four days later, she met with Fahy and another attorney at Fahy Choi, provided letters and other evidence, and retained Fahy to sue for hostile work environment, wrongful discharge and retaliation.
In May 2010, Fahy met with Douglas MacCormack and the company’s outside counsel, Joseph Perconti,who again offered $15,000. Thorsen again said no.
About three weeks after the meeting, Fahy notified Thorsen that he’d filed a Superior Court suit on her behalf—well within the two-year limitations period that would end in January 2012.
In the years that followed, according to Thorsen, Fahy repeatedly asked her for help drafting interrogatories, told her about pending depositions that he said were postponed time and again, and advised her of settlement conferences with Perconti and a judge.
In January 2013, Fahy allegedly notified Thorsen that the defendants had agreed to a $1.2 million settlement that would be finalized in a matter of weeks. Thorsen says he thereafter kept her abreast of efforts to secure payment, and on July 11 advised her that a check was en route to his office, where it would be held in trust and disbursed after his fee was deducted.
Thorsen says she last heard from Fahy on July 12, when he left a voicemail saying that he had “good news.”
Five days later, on July 17, Fahy was found under a New Jersey Transit railroad trestle along Route 17 in East Rutherford, not far from his office, with a single gunshot wound to the head and a handgun nearby.
After learning of Fahy’s death, Thorsen contacted the firm and was advised by managing partner Benjamin Choi that no suit had ever been filed.
She was “devastated to learn that the reports that Fahy had given her over the course of their three-and-a-half year professional relationship about the progress of her case and its settlement…were all lies,” says the malpractice complaint, drafted by Bennett Wasserman of Davis, Saperstein & Salomon in Teaneck.
Named as defendants are Fahy’s estate, his wife and executor Anne Fahy, the firm, Choi, co-managing partner Dongho Song and secretary Ida Marks.
The suit includes fraudulent concealment, evidence spoliation and civil conspiracy claims against the MacCormack Agency and its principals, as well as Perconti, who was with Perconti & Cook in North Haledon at the time.
On notice of likely litigation after the May 2010 meeting with Fahy, they destroyed important pieces of Thorsen’s employment records, she claims.
Frank MacCormack, reached by phone, says the company never heard from Fahy after the May 2010 meeting. He declines further comment.
Perconti, currently a Totowa solo, says that he also never heard from Fahy after the meeting. He calls the allegations against him “absurd, ludicrous, unprofessional and without merit,” adding that he’s “intending to pursue it as frivolous,” including by seeking sanctions, if possible.
The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and other relief.
Thorsen alleges that experts previously valued her wrongful termination claims against the MacCormack Agency, including punitive damages, at $6.98 million to $9.98 million.
Wasserman and Maxwell Billek, the attorney for Fahy Choi’s malpractice carrier, Darwin Select Ins. Co., engaged in talks until late October, when Wasserman says he was told there would be no settlement. Billek, of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker in Florham Park, declines comment.
Wasserman says, “I’m not in the business of besmirching the reputations of prominent attorneys…but something happened here.”
Wasserman says Choi and Song, as the firm’s managing partners, “should have been watching—not the lawyer [Fahy], but the work. And they didn’t do it.”
Choi, Fahy’s partner since 2004, did not return a call seeking comment.
As a prosecutor, Fahy earned a reputation for taking on government corruption and, as a private attorney, for defending those accused of it. A 1981 graduate of Seton Hall University School of Law, he spent his first three years as an assistant Hudson County prosecutor. In 1984, he became an assistant U.S. attorney in Newark, eventually supervising political-corruption and other units. He served a five-year term as Bergen County prosecutor from 1990 to 1995, when he went into private criminal defense practice, initially with Hackensack’s Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard.
Prior to his death, Fahy also had been in disciplinary trouble arising out of a fee dispute with another client. The state Supreme Court on June 28 ordered that he would be temporarily suspended as of July 29 until he complied with the terms of a determination by the District IIB Fee Arbitration Committee and paid a $500 sanction.