Ten clients of Western New York lawyers shared in $9.2 million in awards issued to 155 people statewide in 2016 from a special state fund created to pay victims of disgraced lawyers.
Timothy O'Sullivan, executive director of the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection, said last year the clients of 48 former lawyers, including four from Western New York, were reimbursed money owed to them because of lawyer misconduct in real estate and other legal matters. Clients of the four local attorneys also had been reimbursed in prior years for the lawyers' misconduct.
These are the Western New York cases:
- Getzville businessman Jack Lifton was awarded $207,451. Lifton was sued by a former business partner represented by David S. Widenor, a Buffalo lawyer who was later disbarred and imprisoned. Lifton told The Buffalo News he was involved in a six-year legal fight and Widenor kept assets that were in dispute in a trust fund. Widenor never repaid him that money after it was due, Lifton said. In 2014, Widenor pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny counts in Erie County Court for failing to pass on escrow funds he was securing for clients. Widenor had used client funds to pay for his family's trip to Disney World in Florida and to pay off personal loans. He was sentenced to 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison and was paroled from Lakeview Correctional Facility on Sept. 17, 2015.
- Three clients of the late Ronald D. Anton, a Niagara Falls attorney, shared $4,879. They were Wilbert Allen, of Niagara Falls, $1,000; the estate of Kent Daniell Bentkowski of Niagara Falls, $3,379; and Reuben Byrd Sr. of Niagara Falls, $500. Anton died in 2014 at the age of 82. After his death, a significant shortfall in client escrow funds was discovered, leading to the claims filed with the state fund. In 2015, seven other clients of Anton shared $144,478 in reimbursements from the fund. They were Hannah Rae Cox, Oregon, $22,670; the estate of Diolido DiVito of Palm Harbor, Fla., $27,735; Caroline C. Latham of Lewiston, $10,687; Nancy Peters, of Tonawanda, $8,097; William R. Polin, of North Naples, Fla., $38,398; the estate of Murdock Winstanley of North Tonawanda, $8,097 and the estate of Joan J. Woods of Ransomville, $26,794.
- The estate of Marvin McQueen of Amherst was awarded $8,696 if was owed by the late Dennis A. Kahn, a Buffalo project liability, personal injury and medical malpractice attorney. Kahn died in 2012 at the age of 60. In 2015 the fund reimbursed other former Kahn clients: Rebecca Bottita of Kenmore, $42,510; Diane L. Wichtowski of Williamsville, $29,436 and Gregory W. Witchtowski of Buffalo, $22,436.
- In 2015 and 2016, 19 former clients of Christina A. Agola, a disbarred Rochester civil rights lawyer, shared $114,396 in reimbursements from the lawyers fund. Agola was disbarred for mishandling client funds, forging documents and offering false testimony when confronted by allegations of professional impropriety.
The fund, which has been operating since 1982, is financed through the attorney registration fees charged to the state's more than 300,000 lawyers.