As we attorneys registered in the state of New York approach the breathtaking total of one quarter of a billion dollars of reimbursement to client victims of lawyer theft, we should take a moment to capture the reasons for this unique, privately-funded program of rectification. As is true of most every substantial gather of people, deliberate abuses occur. What distinguishes the legal community, not only here but in every state of the union, is the institutionalization of reimbursement to clients who have been financially victimized by their attorneys. Lawyers should take considerable pride that, unlike any other profession, we collectively walk the walk to minimize client loss.
Every two years all lawyers registered to practice in New York state file with the Office of Court Administration. From each registration fee, $30 are annually directed to the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection (the fund), which in turn has generated the astronomical sum of $233 million in payouts to law clients who were victimized by a small fraction of thieving attorneys. The fund, which was a creation of the State Legislature in 1981, and overseen by the seven judges of New York’s Court of Appeals, uses not one dollar of taxpayer money, nor are we affiliated in any way with the more widely known IOLA program.
Gustavo Luis Vila was a former N.Y.P.D. police lieutenant prior to attending Fordham Law School and was a sole practitioner in Yorktown Heights, Westchester County. As a former officer, Vila solicited police and first responders who wished to submit claims to the 9/11 Victims’ Compensation Fund (VCF). Officer F was a 9/11 first responder at Ground Zero who had contracted non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and retained Vila to file a successful compensation claim for $1.03 million. In December 2015, Vila pleaded guilty to one count of third degree grand larceny for misappropriating Officer F’s net $823,000 settlement recovery. The Lawyers’ Fund was able to reimburse Mr. F the maximum reimbursement available: $400,000.