Today’sNew York Law Journal has reported that a referee has upheld charges against Bronx County Surrogate Lee Holzman that the judge should have fired Michael Lippman Esq, counsel to the Bronx County Public Administrator when he discovered that Lippman had collected excessive fees from estates. Rather than do this, the judge evidently devised a "repayment plan" so that Lippman, who is his friend and who chaired his re-election committee , could pay back the funds without being subjected to disciplinary proceedings. Although other serious charges against the Surrogate were dismissed by the referee, the Commission on Judicial Fitness will recommend his removal from the bench when it meets on September 20th. Having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, however, Surrogate Holzman must leave the bench at the end of this year in any event.
While most Public Administrators function well in matters involving small estates where they cannot be paid for their time, there have been occasions where estates have been charged excessive fees which might not have been the case had private counsel been involved. Significantly, serious charges involving the Public Administrators of two New York City Boroughs —Kings County and the Bronx– have occurred in the recent past. To some extent these situations may be avoided by having vigilant private counsel anticipate the possibility that a client –or a relative of a client– might be intestate or without competent relatives or friends to serve an estate in a fiduciary capacity. The extra cost and delay of having an involvement with the Public Administrator can often be avoided with some propper estate planning.