An elderly Baltimore woman, bilked out of $160,000 by a Maryland attorney four years ago, has been awarded $60,000 by a Maryland Bar Association Unit set up to aid victims of corrupt state attorneys.
The $60,000 award is the largest ever made to a victim in the 10-year history of the Bar's Client Security Trust Fund, according to Charles O. Fisher, chairman of the fund's trustees.
The $60,000 check was presented last month to Mrs. James L. Bryan, who was the beneficiary of the estate of her late daughter, Louise Bryan. Miss Bryan committed suicide in 1974 after being seriously injured in an automobile accident, according to her sister, Corinne Mitsak.
The award was made as partial repayment of the $150,000 taken from Bryan's estate by Morris Levine, the attorney then handling Miss Bryan's estate, Fisher said. Levine was later disharred.
The Bryans, who are elderly and in ill health, referred all questions to Mitsak. The 1973 automobile accident severly injured Miss Bryan, and with time she became more and more depressed, Mitsak said.
Finally, in late 1973, Bryan killed herself, and Levine, who had been handling the accident, insurance claim filed by the woman, agreed to handle her estate, Mitsak said.
It was not until nearly a year later that Mitsak, doing her own research, said she discovered that Levine apparently had kept $30,000 of Miss Bryan's $60,000 life insurance policy, all of which should have gone to the mother. Mitsak also said that Levine apparently had kept all of a $90,000 accidental death policy, after telling Mitsak that the company refused to pay anything at all because Miss Bryan's death had been listed as a suicide. Finally, Mitsak said, Levine had kept about $30,000 from a $38,000 company profit sharing plan to which Miss Bryan belonged.
When Mitsak discovered this information, she said, she retained another attorney, Albert S. Barr III. Shortly afterward, Levine repaid Mrs. Bryan about $65,000, but said he was unable to pay any more, she said.
Levine, who pleaded guilty on May 27, 1976, to fraud in connection with the disappearance of the $1,160,000, served three weeks in jail before he was released. He did not return a call to his home yesterday.
Mitsak said Barr urged her to file a complaint with the Maryland Bar Association's Client Security Trust Fund, which she did. "But I never expected to get anything more than a few thousand dollars," Mitsak related.
Investigators for the trust fund verified Mitsak's allegations, and decided to award her mother the $60,000, the maximum amount it can give under its bylaws, said Fisher, a Baltimore county attorney.
The trust fund was established in 1965 to reimburse clients defrauded by Maryland attorneys and to "help maintain the image of the Maryland bar," Fisher said. Each of the state's 9,800 practicing attorneys is assessed a $10 yearly fee, which is used to cover awards and office expenses, he said.
During the past 10 years, the fund has taken in about $750,000, and paid out about $250,000 to more than 100 claimants, Fisher added. Forty other states have similar plans, he said.
"The fund is not an insurance policy against incompetent lawyers, but only helps those clients whose funds are misused by Maryland lawyers," he said.
Mistak said her parents may have to use the award to cover legal and medical expenses incurred in connection with the matter.