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The Erie County district attorney is investigating a Buffalo woman's claim that a local lawyer who ran for Family Court had duped her on an accident claim and had someone twice forge her signature.

The woman, according to court and law enforcement sources, told investigators last week that attorney David E. Hampton cashed a $4,500 insurance settlement check made out to her in November 1987 without telling her she had obtained a settlement.

Hampton was suspended from the legal profession last week in connection with the insurance case.

The woman, Francesca Kurnick, also told investigators Hampton had told her as recently as mid-1988 that State Farm Insurance Co. was fighting her claim over a 1986 accident.

Ms. Kurnick, 37, a full-time college student, told investigators her name was forged on a general release form purportedly indicating she accepted State Farm's $4,500 offer on Nov. 24, 1987, and on an insurance company check Hampton cashed that same day.

Ms. Kurnick told investigators she did not learn that Hampton had cashed the check and put it in one of his own bank accounts until she complained to State Farm officials in 1988 about the company's refusal to pay for further medical therapy.

Ms. Kurnick gave investigators a copy of a July 1988 letter in which Hampton purportedly led her to believe her case still hadn't been settled and advised her that she could settle her bodily injury claim with State Farm or demand arbitration.

District Attorney Kevin M. Dillon confirmed that his staff is investigating the complaints.

Hampton, 45, who has quietly dropped his two-week-old bid for the Democratic Party nomination for Family Court judge, expressed surprise at Dillon's investigation.

"I don't understand Mr. Dillon's motivation," Hampton said.

"There have been no allegations of wrongdoing on my part by the Appellate Division" of State Supreme Court, which suspended him, Hampton said.

Hampton also questioned the motives of his former client in waiting more than two years to file criminal complaints in the insurance dispute. He said that case was fully investigated by court officials in the probe that led to his suspension from law practice.

"I will not be a part of any ongoing dialogue in the newspaper," Hampton said. "I'm trying to get on with my life and look out for my family."

Hampton said the cloud from his suspension has prompted him to drop his candidacy for Family Court judge.

He questioned the timing of the suspension, imposed only days after he had announced his judicial candidacy.

Hampton -- who, despite his suspension, was still technically eligible to run for the judgeship -- said he won't file nomination petitions with the Erie County Board of Elections.

The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester has barred Hampton working as a lawyer for the next year for putting the insurance settlement -- still not refunded to the woman -- in one of his office bank accounts rather than in a separate escrow account.

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas F. McGowan separately confirmed that in mid-May he voided the disputed November 1987 insurance company release form, permitting Ms. Kurnick to resume efforts to sue a State Farm client over her 1986 accident.

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