For three months, a pair of attorneys hired by a dying Harwich Port millionaire's family were paid to be his guardian.
Their fee? Half a million dollars.
The duo — Dennis-based lawyer E. James Veara and Boston attorney Gerald Nissenbaum — also spent $20,000 of their client's money on a private investigator they hired to watch Kenneth Simon's wife, Anne Flaherty Simon.
Both men are now being ordered by a judge to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars to Simon's family, which sued the attorneys after he died in 2005.
Plymouth County Probate & Family Court Judge Stephen C. Steinberg chastised Veara and Nissenbaum for unethical behavior that includes overcharging the 71-year-old's estate as the retired Harwich Port financial manager lay dying at Pleasant Bay Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Brewster.
"Nissenbaum and Veara wildly spent the ward's money," Steinberg wrote in the Jan. 14 decision.
Veara, who has been practicing at his father's Dennis law firm, Zisson & Veara, for nearly 20 years, called Steinberg's decision "retaliatory."
"Anyone who knows me, knows I'm honest, fair, hard-working and, frankly, I didn't do anything wrong here," Veara said. "I'll pursue my right to appeal."
'Lawyers lost their way'
The two attorneys "paid themselves approximately $500,000 for a temporary guardianship that lasted 83 days," Steinberg stated.
An expert witness for the case claimed guardianship lasting that amount of time should cost between $20,000 and $40,000, according to court documents.
Judge Steinberg ordered Veara to repay $107,741.45, and Nissenbaum to repay about $199,000. They were also ordered to repay the $20,000 spent on a private investigator hired to get dirt on Flaherty Simon.
The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers office has an open investigation of the case, and the two lawyers could be penalized further, said Charles Waters, of Sheehan, Phinney, Bass & Green, of Boston, who represented Simon's two sons in the case against Veara and Nissenbaum.
"I think this is a sad story for two lawyers who lost their way ... instead of following their fiduciary duties, they acted in their own self-interest," Waters said.
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Lawyers Ordered to Repay Thousands