Jack Cunningham, a Marine veteran who served in Vietnam, told Examiner.com Sunday he believes the New Jersey court system used his combat-related PTSD to "play games" against him in a legal battle that has gone on for years.
His problems started in 2000, when he went through a divorce, he said. Panicked and concerned the courts would use his condition against him, he retained a law firm to keep his divorce from going into default. At that time, he added, he had 21 days.
But, he added, the firm never did anything, even though he paid his retainer. Cunningham also said the firm never returned his calls and letters. They did, however, charge him at a rate some $25.00 per hour more than he had originally agreed to, according to documents he provided to Examiner.
His divorce ended up in default for four months, requiring him to write a family court judge to get the issue resolved. The judge, he said, eventually took his divorce out of default, no thanks to the legal firm that even charged him for time he spent proofreading their work.
Eventually, he said, he wrote the office of attorney ethics who told him to simply get another attorney. In the meantime, his original attorney was removed from the case, replaced by a general practitioner who also happened to serve as vice chairman of the District X Ethics Committee. This change, he added, was made without his knowledge.
The attorney, identified as Robert D. Correale, came to court unprepared to argue his case, Cunningham said. As a result, the former Marine was forced to essentially represent himself.
"I was a basket case because of the PTSD," he said. "But I got it done."
Ultimately, the judge took his divorce out of default, but Cunningham's problems were just beginning.
Two years later, the firm sued him for more than $2,000, even though, he said, they really did not get anything done. Fortunately, he kept all of the documents from the divorce, including the contract and statements he received from the firm and filed suit against the firm.
The case was assigned to arbitration, but nothing was resolved. It eventually went to court, where, he said, the lawyer representing the firm tried to get his paperwork thrown out.
The judge, he added, threw out the law firm's suit and told him the evidence he had justified the damages he was seeking and also warranted a much larger lawsuit.
But a funny thing happened a month later when Cunningham attempted to get a transcript of the hearing. While the transcript existed, the judge's remarks were mysteriously missing. He had hoped to use the transcript in formal charges against the firm, but the missing portion of the transcript effectively threw his case out the window.
He contacted a state Senator, but the judge said he had no idea how it could have happened.
He also explained the court wanted the charges brought before the ethics committee, but, he said, that would have been a conflict of interest considering Correale's position on the committee. After two months of wrangling, the court finally agreed there was a conflict of interest and moved the case to another ethics committee.
By now, he said, he was dealing directly with the state Supreme Court. Instead of making progress, he said he felt as though the court was covering for the attorneys involved. Nevertheless, he sent the information he had to the new committee, including information on the missing transcript.
Three lawyers of the firm he dealt with also had to issue certifications to the court explaining their side of the story. But, he said, the certifications they presented were false, vague and misleading.
"They lied," he told Examiner.
He responded, but said he felt as though he was back in Vietnam, facing the enemy alone.
The court cleared the firm of all charges, Cunningham said. But, he added, the decision was based on false certifications and a missing transcript.
Throughout this ordeal, Cunningham reached out to lawmakers and even the governor of New Jersey, who at the time, happened to be Jim McGreevey. McGreevey, he added, had a file on him, and said he could call the head of the attorney ethics committee. Unfortunately, they never responded to his calls and letters.
He said he also wrote former Gov. Richard Codey and later, Jon Corzine. Neither responded to his calls for help.
All this has taken a toll on Cunningham, who said the VA wanted to admit him three times for stress. He refused, saying he didn't trust the court system.
He still seeks justice, even though he says he no longer has the strength for another court battle. He also told Examiner that another attorney said he could take the issue to court. The law firm, however, is no longer in business. At one time, he said, he even approached the FBI, but the federal agency accused him of creating his own evidence.
"It's such a frustrating thing," he said. But Cunningham is determined to get justice. At times, he said, he felt like giving up, but kept fighting, believing that surrender was not an option. At other times, he said, he felt as though he was back in Vietnam, fighting the enemy all by himself.
"I'd like to see some people go to jail," he said. "I want to bring justice."
But this time, he may have some help. On Tuesday, he said he received a call from the office of Rep.Scott Garrett, R-N.J. According to Cunningham, Garrett is interested in learning more about discrimination against veterans. He has also reached out to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, and Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Neither Issa nor Christie, however, have responded.