Legal Ethics

No $853K Guardian Payday for N.Y. Lawyer; Also Hit With $403K Surcharge


Attorney Emani Taylor apparently was hoping to get $853,000 for three years of work as a guardian for a former New York judge.

Instead, the New York lawyer got a lecture on legal ethics from Acting Supreme Court Justice Michael Ambrosio and a $403,000 surcharge for improper payments she had earlier made to herself from selling real estate owned by former Civil Court Judge John Phillips, reports the New York Law Journal. The article was reprinted by New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

About half of the $403,000 involved a $197,000 payment that Taylor admittedly made to herself while serving as Phillips’ guardian, from nearly $700,000 in proceeds from the sale of real estate owned by Philips. The payment was for legal work she performed for him before she became his guardian.

But “what exactly she purports to have done to earn $2,500 a week in counsel fees from [Mr. Phillips’] funds for seventy-four straight weeks remains a mystery,” Ambrosio writes in his opinion. Plus, “in paying herself counsel fees without any prior court approval, Taylor made herself final arbiter of the reasonableness of her fees. This self-dealing conduct clearly conflicted with her obligation as guardian.”

Taylor was also ordered to repay a $52,000 brokerage commission that she paid herself in the sale of the property that brought in the $700,000, as well as another $120,000 that she spent repairing a different Phillips property. That property had previously been sold at a mortgage foreclosure auction almost a year before Taylor made the renovations, Ambrosio notes.

Phillips, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, died in February at age 83. At one point he reportedly held real estate worth some $10 million.

Taylor has been suspended from the practice of law by the Appellate Division, First Department, for, as Ambrosio puts it, “at best, withdrawing funds from the guardianship account for legal fees without court permission, or, at worst, intentionally converting guardianship funds.”

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