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Series of Scandals Force New York State Court Officials to Revise Guidelines for Public Administrators

After a series of scandals involving New York public administrators, the Administrative Board for the Office of Public Administrators was called upon early last year to propose a new set of guidelines with respect to record-keeping and auditing standards. The proposed guidelines were released earlier this month for public comment.

Public administrators are judicially appointed to manage the estates of those who have died without someone appointed or able to administer their estates. Since 2002, there have been a number of instances in which attorneys have been suspended, disbarred, and indicted on criminal charges for their involvement with the public administrator’s office and charging of excessive fees for their work on estate matters. As we reported on October 17, 2011, one incident involved the suspension of attorney Louis Rosenthal and former Surrogate Court Judge Michael Feinberg, whose excessive legal billing and improper approval of such bills served as the basis of their suspensions.

Following almost two years of work, the Administrative Board for the Offices of Public Administrators released, earlier this month, a comprehensive report regarding the proposed public administrator guidelines in an attempt to promote transparency and accountability. The proposed rules include a sliding-scale fee schedule, the maintenance of an electronic case-management system, and a prohibition against contracts between the public administrator’s office and relatives of the office’s employees.

While drafting the proposed rules, the Board “faced a delicate balancing act of producing clear, thorough policies that still allow public administrators to work with the realities of their individual jurisdictions.” The proposed guidelines, once finalized, will apply to New York’s eleven largest counties—the five boroughs of New York, plus Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester, Erie, Monroe, and Onondaga counties. The report is available for public comment until February 3, 2011, after which the Board will issue final guidelines.

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