Judge Laments ‘Endless Wasting’ of Disabled Man’s Trust, Denies $30K in Attorney Fees
By Debra Cassens Weiss
Jul 31, 2012, 07:59 am CDT
A California judge has refused to approve nearly $30,000 in a new round of attorney fees charged to the special needs trust of a disabled man, after reluctantly approving another $145,000 spent to defend an earlier attorney fee request.
In a ruling released on Monday, Judge Franklin Bondonno of Santa Clara County denied the additional fees in the case of Danny Reed, a disabled man whose case was highlighted in a San Joes Mercury News investigation, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Attorney fee requests amount to more than half the money left in the trust.
"At some point, this endless wasting of Danny Reed's trust assets must stop," Bondonno wrote. "As far as this court is concerned, that moment is long past."
The Mercury News investigation noted an initial legal bill of $108,000 for 4 ½ months of work by a court-appointed trustee. When the amount was disputed by lawyers working for free on behalf of Bondonno, the trustee hired a lawyer to defend his fee request, creating additional charges to the estate.
Bondonno has approved $145,000 spent to defend the fee request, saying he was hamstrung by a California Supreme Court ruling allowing attorney fees to defend attorney fees. He said he hoped that appeals courts or the legislature can do what he is not permitted to do: "develop a new and more workable rule for fees-on-fees cases."
A San Jose Mercury News editorial said most conservators in Santa Clara County charge reasonable fees. But a six-month investigation by its reporter “found a small group of court-appointed personal and estate managers submitting huge, questionable bills—and if people challenge them, they charge more.”