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Surrogate Accused of Failing to Report Excessive Fees Paid to Public Administrator Counsel

According to the New York Law Journal, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has filed an ethics complaint against Bronx Surrogate Lee L. Holzman, accusing him of failing to turn over Michael Lippman, former counsel to the Bronx public administrator, to authorities after learning that Mr. Lippman received excessive legal fees.

The complaint alleges that Surrogate Holzman misapplied guidelines for the payment of counsel in a case connected to Mr. Lippman. Additionally, it also accuses Surrogate Holzman of failing to report Mr. Lippman to the authorities after he became aware that Mr. Lippman received payments in excess of the guidelines. Surrogate Holzman also reportedly failed to report fees that were improperly advanced to Mr. Lippman.

Surrogate Holzman’s attorney responded by asserting that Surrogate Holzman immediately reported the misconduct to the public administrator’s office as soon as he became aware of it.

In 2010, Mr. Lippman was indicted for receiving $300,000 in excessive legal fees in several cases. He was also indicted for receiving advances on his fees from a former public administrator. In 2006, Surrogate Holzman became aware of the improper payments made to Mr. Lippman. As a result, he fired the public administrator responsible for making the improper advances. However, he allegedly allowed Mr. Lippman to continue working with the agreement that any fees he earned would be applied against fees already paid to him.

At that time, a new public administrator and counsel were appointed. Until 2009, Mr. Lippman continued to work on 20% of new matters that came into the office. The fees earned by Mr. Lippman on these matters were applied against the fees previously paid to him. In 2009, when John J. Reddy, Jr. replaced the interim counsel, Mr. Lippman’s work with the Bronx public administrator’s office was terminated. At that time, approximately 300 cases had not been worked off by Mr. Lippman. Mr. Reddy has decreased that number to 32. The fees earned by Mr. Reddy or his firm are used to reimburse the estates that paid excessive or improper fees to Mr. Lippman. In order to recover the fees he or his firm earned, Mr. Reddy would be required to sue Mr. Lippman for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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