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New York Lawyer Disbarred For Financially Exploiting Seniors

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MAY 12, 2003 VOLUME 10, NUMBER 45

Financial exploitation of vulnerable seniors is hardly a new problem, but both the frequency and the severity of abuse have increased dramatically in recent years. Many seniors (or their concerned friends and family members) turn to the legal system for help and protection. Sometimes protectors become abusers themselves. That was the case with New York attorney Charles Butin.

Mr. Butin was ultimately disbarred by the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division—but not until he had taken tens of thousands of dollars belonging to at least three women he had been hired to help protect.

Martha Reifforth hired Mr. Butin to initiate guardianship proceedings with regard to her close friend Marie Edelman in 1996. Ms. Edelman had become unable to handle her own affairs, but not before she had signed powers of attorney giving Ms. Reifforth authority to take care of her financial affairs. Mr. Butin told her that she needed to sign a number of blank account withdrawal forms, and then began transferring Ms. Edelman’s money into his own office bank account.

Ultimately Ms. Reifforth fired Mr. Butin and hired a new lawyer to try to recover funds still in his control. Although he had transferred at least $144,300 into his own accounts by the time of Ms. Edelman’s death in July, 2000, Mr. Butin only had $38,036.60 left in his office account—and he had made no distributions for Ms. Edelman’s benefit. He estimated that his fees for work done on her behalf totaled between $25,000 and $75,000, though he had never submitted a bill.

In two other cases Mr. Butin represented guardians of elderly, incapacitated women, and took charge of handling their accounts. In both cases he paid himself substantial fees without getting approval from his clients or the court, and failed to pay the women’s bills on time. In one case his client was held in contempt and sentenced to five days imprisonment, though the judge later set that sentence aside when it became apparent that Mr. Butin’s client was unaware that he was in serious trouble with the courts—because Mr. Butin did not tell him about the contempt proceeding.

Mr. Butin asked for a lesser punishment, pointing out that he had been active in bar association activities, had donated many hours of free legal time, and had emotional and family problems that contributed to his admittedly wrongful behavior. In ordering his disbarment the court noted that he “targeted clients who were likely to be vulnerable to his manipulation, including the elderly or the incapacitated.” In the Matter of Butin, November 18, 2002, as amended March 12, 2003.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.