New Jersey Attorney Disbarred for Charging Elderly Client $120,000 to Administer Her Husband's Estate

The New Jersey Supreme Court disbars an attorney for charging an excessive fee while representing an 88-year-old woman who was administering her husband's estate. In the Matter of Ledingham (N.J., No. 083357, Oct. 30, 2019) and (N.J. Disciplinary Review Board, No. DRB 19-021, Aug. 13, 2019).

Mary Kay Binder hired attorney Richard Ledingham to represent her as executrix of her husband's estate. Mr. Ledingham charged $175 per hour and billed Ms. Binder for 674 hours of work, totaling more than $120,000 in legal fees. The work included dealing with a property in Vermont as well as numerous investments. Among other things, Mr. Ledingham billed 86.75 hours to review the will and two codicils, 83 hours to review financial documents, 55 hours to research mutual fund and stock prices, and 77 hours to review the Vermont probate. Ms. Binder paid him more than $88,000, but she eventually fired Mr. Ledingham, and he agreed to reduce his fee.

The disciplinary committee charged Mr. Ledingham with violating professional rules of conduct involving excessive fees. An expert witness testified that while Mr. Ledingham charged a lower-than-average hourly rate, the amount of time for the work Mr. Ledingham performed should not have exceeded 30 hours. The expert estimated that the maximum fee should have been $15,500. Mr. Ledingham argued that the work was complicated and that he saved the estate money. The disciplinary committee recommended an 18-month suspension.

The Disciplinary Review Board recommends disbarment and the New Jersey Supreme Court disbars Mr. Ledingham. According to the review board, Mr. Ledingham did not show remorse or justify the reasonableness of his fees and "the victim of his misdeeds was a recently widowed eighty-eight-year-old who should have been enjoying that money in her twilight years."

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