N E W S Additional Information:
New York State Frederick Miller
Lawyers Fund for Client Protection Executive Director & Counsel
(800) 442-3863

NY Lawyers Fund Reimburses Scholarship Fund

(Albany, NY) The New York Lawyers Fund will reimburse the estate of a dead law client $100,000. The award will be used to fund scholarships at Dowling College in Suffolk County, New York. The award reimburses thefts by two attorneys who have been disbarred and sentenced to prison.

The "Joseph T. Kirk Helping Hand Fund" was created by the Last Will and Testament of Florence Kirk, a resident of Lake Ronkonkoma, NY, at her death in 1979. Mrs. Kirk established the scholarship in memory of her late husband. She named Shirley A. Ehman as her Executor, and Ehman's husband, Frank X. Marino, as the Trustee of the scholarship fund for graduate students from Long Island.

Ehman and Marino were law partners in Suffolk County. They were disbarred in 1996, pleaded guilty in April 1997 to several counts of grand larceny, and were sentenced to state prison for terms of 3 to 9 years. They admitted upwards of $3 million in thefts from law clients; among them, $386,000 from Mrs. Kirk's estate.

Because the disbarred lawyers are bankrupt, the New York Lawyers Fund is helping their victims with reimbursement. Thus far the fund has restored $2.7 million to 58 victims, principally estates of dead clients and the proceeds from real property closings. This is one of the largest payouts for lawyer dishonesty in the fund's 16-year history.

The New York Lawyers Fund is a trust fund, created in 1981, which is financed by the state's legal profession to protect law clients from dishonest conduct in the practice of law. Every practicing attorney contributes $50 annually to support the reimbursement fund, which is administered by a Board of Trustees appointed by the NYS Court of Appeals, New York's high court. The Trustees, five lawyers and two business leaders who are not lawyers, serve without compensation.

The fund covers the theft of law client and escrow money, like thefts from estates and trusts and real property transactions. It does not cover losses from malpractice, neglect or fee disputes. The fund budgets $8 million annually to reimburse eligible law clients and escrow beneficiaries. By law, it caps each award of reimbursement at $100,000. Since 1981, the Lawyers Fund has reimbursed more than $70 million to clients of 550 disbarred or dead lawyers. There are 165,000 licensed lawyers in New York State.

The reimbursement award was announced by Eleanor Breitel Alter, chairman of the fund's Board of Trustees, and a partner in the Manhattan law firm of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman.

"The theft of client money by a lawyer is especially hurtful to honest lawyers. While it's the rare lawyer who steals from a client, the misuse of escrow money creates for us a 'debt of honor'. We are fortunate that honest lawyers in New York State maintain this special trust fund to protect clients like Mr. and Mrs. Kirk. Their memory will be preserved in this scholarship at Dowling College."

Mrs. Alter said that the fund's Board of Trustees were grateful to the offices of Dennis C. Vacco, Attorney General of the New York State, for its assistance in investigating the loss from Mrs. Kirk's estate, and helping to restore this scholarship fund for deserving students.

"The Attorney General stepped forward to help the Lawyers Fund. This was generous public service of the highest order", Mrs. Alter said.

Russell T. Lauper, the Chief of Staff for Dowling College announced that the Joseph E. Kirk Helping-Hand Fund will be administered for students pursuing graduate studies in the fields of education and science.

"Dowling College has historically served students from the Long Island region with a preponderance of students from western Suffolk County," observed Lauper. The Helping-Hand Fund will award a scholarship each year to an outstanding student, with a minimum grade point average in undergraduate studies of 3.5, pursuing studies in Master of Science in Education or Master of Science in Science Education.

In addition to Mrs. Alter, the fund's other Trustees are are Bernard F. Ashe of Albany; Theodore D. Hoffmann of Hicksville in Nassau County; Charles J. Hynes, District Attorney of Kings County; Ray W. Manuszewski of Cheektowaga in Erie County; Eric A. Seiff of Manhattan and the Bronx; and Shirley B. Waters of Rome in Oneida County.