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Attorney admits forging judges’ signatures to help clients

A 31-year-old attorney in Jackson County pleaded guilty this week to forging judges’ signatures and creating phony court documents.

John Lewis faked the signatures on limited privilege driver’s licenses for at least three clients in Swain County who had their real licenses revoked.

District Attorney Mike Bonfoey said in court that it was a sad day for the legal profession and criminal justice system.

“We rely on the honesty and integrity of each individual in the system. We rely on the honesty and integrity of each order in the clerk’s office that is purportedly signed by a judge,” Bonfoey said. “To do this is an affront to all of us. His actions damage all of us. There is no way to undo that or make restitution for that.”

Lewis confessed that he was addicted to prescription pain pills for the past 18 months.

“What I did was not out of disrespect or contempt for the law or judges or my colleagues. It was done out of stupidity,” Lewis said. “Most of the time, I was screwed up. This was a daily habit. I would like to apologize to my colleagues and most of all my family.”

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The crimes will cost Lewis his law license, but Lewis said his addiction almost cost him something far more important — his marriage.

Lewis was sentenced to 60 days in jail, followed by 10 months of house arrest and five years of probation, plus 100 hours of community service. He pleaded guilty to 12 felony counts spanning forgery and uttering, obstruction of justice and filing an unauthorized court judgment.

Lewis cooperated with investigators from the beginning and pleaded guilty without a bargain. He also checked in to a 28-day substance abuse treatment program. His remorse and cooperation likely helped him land a lighter sentence.

“One thing I was always taught was if you do something stupid you admit it and take responsibility,” Lewis said. “I realize I will never practice law again and I realize I might go to jail today.... if that’s what it takes to show everyone I am sorry for what I did.”

Judge Charles Ginn, who is from the Boone area, presided over the hearing Monday (Jan. 11) and handed down the sentence. Ginn was clearly dismayed by the events.

“It goes without saying I don’t take pleasure in what we are doing here today,” Ginn said. “We have lost the concept of absolute truth, that there is a standard that we all must live by that cannot be altered simply by some set of circumstances we might find ourselves in. The legal system was the last bastion of absolute truth, and it no longer is, unfortunately.”

But Ginn seemed to have sympathy for Lewis’ plight with substance abuse and lectured him extensively about it. From his seat on the bench, Ginn is a frequent eyewitness to the ills of substance abuse. He congratulated Lewis on going through an intensive four-week rehab but warned him it was only the beginning of a long road.

“That’s a drop in the ocean. That’s nothing. Treatment is a lifetime event for you,” Ginn said. “You have to have somebody in your life to kick the backseat of your britches when you don’t do what you are supposed to do.”

Ginn also told Lewis that he needed to find faith in a higher power within the universe to guide him and keep him strong.

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