A Massachusetts probate judge recently ordered prominent Boston family lawyer Gerald Nissenbaum and another attorney to refund a client's estate nearly $329,000 in excess legal fees.
Plymouth County Probate and Family Court Judge Stephen Steinberg's Jan. 14 order gave the attorneys 30 days to make the payments.
The Barnstable County probate case, In re Guardianship of Kenneth E. Simon, ended up on Steinberg's docket after the Massachusetts Appeals Court recused Judge Robert Scandurra of the Barnstable Probate and Family Court in December 2007. The decision does not address the basis for that recusal.
According to Steinberg's order, Simon's guardian, E. James Veara of Dennis, Mass.-based Zisson & Veara, and Nissenbaum sought about $500,000 in attorney and guardian fees for an 83-day guardianship of Simon, which ended with Simon's death on Nov. 2, 2005.
Steinberg's order requires Nissenbaum to repay Simon's estate more than $199,000 and Veara to repay more than $107,000. Together, the two lawyers must also repay the estate more than $21,000 for payments to legal vendors during the guardianship.
"From the very beginning of this case, the tactics undertaken by Nissenbaum and Veara were improper," wrote Steinberg, who determined that "Nissenbaum and Veara wildly spent the ward's money." He noted that Veara, who did not return a call for comment, increased his billing rate to $400 per hour for the case from his average $100 to $300 per hour.
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Mass. Judge Orders Two Lawyers to Refund $329K in Excess Fees to Client's Estate