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Six WNYers among the clients of corrupt lawyers reimbursed by state fund in 2014

Six Western New York clients of allegedly corrupt former lawyers were reimbursed $85,262 last year by the state Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, the fund’s executive director said in Albany.

Officials said the total – out of $6.1 million disbursed statewide – indicates that relatively few local clients had to be compensated because of corrupt lawyers last year.

A list of the reimbursements distributed from 2014 came on the same day that state prison officials confirmed that former Buffalo-area lawyer Kenneth F. Bernas, 58, was released on parole some months ago from Groveland Correctional Facility in Livingston County.

Timothy J. O’Sullivan, executive director of the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, said a total of more than $1.2 million has been repaid to 34 former clients of Bernas. The latest payment amounted to $30,000.

Bernas was sentenced in 2011 by State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang to a two- to seven-year prison term for multiple counts of grand larceny. Wolfgang also ordered Bernas to personally repay $1.8 million to former clients. That amount was in addition to the reimbursements from the state’s fund.

O’Sullivan said a total of $85,262 was repaid last year to the Bernas client and five clients of former attorneys James F. Armstrong of Hamburg, Robert R. Goods of Williamsville, Mackson P. McDowell of Buffalo and the late Dennis A. Kahn of Buffalo.

He said that those cases involved a “tiny percentage” of the clients of the 6,403 lawyers in Western New York’s eight-county Eighth Judicial District.

The fund executive said the principal source of revenue for the corrupt lawyers’ fund is a portion of the biennial attorney registration fees, and no tax money is used to repay bilked clients.

O’Sullivan said Buffalo businessman Anthony J. Baynes of Williamsville is one of the trustees of the corrupt lawyers’ fund.

The fund’s trustees got permission from the state in January to increase the maximum award for the annual compensation of individual victims of corrupt lawyers from $300,000 to $400,000.

email: mgryta@buffnews.com