Legal Ethics

In Unusual Public Testimony, NY Probate Judge Defends His Handling of Attorney Overbilling Issue

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In rare public testimony yesterday in a Manhattan courtroom, a New York probate judge facing a legal ethics case defended his own conduct concerning an attorney who is accused of stealing money from intestate estates by overbilling.

Bronx Surrogate Lee Holzman is accused of failing to report to the proper authorities advance fee payments to the attorney, Michael Lippman, who was employed by a former public administrator. But in his testimony yesterday Holzman said he had faced a “sticky situation” when he learned then-public administrator Esther Rodriguez had approved the advance payments to Lippman, Reuters reported.

“I appointed him, but I was not his client,” Holzman said of Lippman. “The public administrator was. And the public administrator was the one who paid him the fees.” Holzman also said he wasn’t immediately aware that Lippman also had charged fees in excess of statutory guidelines.

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct contends Holzman should have alerted law enforcement or a departmental disciplinary committee. Instead, the commission says, Lippman was allowed to keep working, at a reduced rate, and a restitution plan was devised, the article explains.

Lippman was subsequently criminally charged with grand larceny and fraud for allegedly overbilling estates by some $300,000.

Holzman’s testimony was public because he waived the confidentiality that normally applies. The article says this is only the 11th time in state history that a judge has made such a waiver. The commission has brought some 750 legal ethics cases against judges.

Earlier coverage: “Ethics Complaint Accuses NY Judge of Approving Fees for Lawyer Pal Based on Boilerplate Affidavits”

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