New York State’s Court of Appeals has upheld the determination of the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct that Kings County (Brooklyn) Surrogate Michael Feinberg be removed from office. This decision was handed down on June 29, 2005.
The Judge, elected to a ten year term in 1996 was found to have consistently awarded excessive legal fees to the counsel for the Public Administrator and was also found to have conveyed an appearance of impropriety. Each county in New York has its own Public Administrator appointed by the Surrogate to administer the estates of persons dying intestate without an heir willing to assume that responsibility. The Surrogate is also able to appoint an additional two attorneys to serve as counsel the the Public Administrator . These lawyers receive court-approved fees for their work on the estates they handle. In addition to the fees earned by his law firm and $458,000 in estate-related fees between 1997 and 2002, one of these attorneys –Louis Rosenthal Esq– was found to have been awarded a total of $8,613,009.35 (of which he netted $1,935,000).
These requests for fees were approved without filing the affadavits of services provided which are normally required before a legal fee will be approved by the court.
The Surrogate’s explanation for these gaffes was a fairly incredible gaffe in itself. He claimed that he had “just read through sections” or “skimmed” the SCPA (Surrogate Court Procedure Act) and that his failure to adhere to the law when he awarded his crony such huge and improper fees was a mere “oversight”.
In making its determination, the court cites the Rules of Judicial Conduct warning that “A Judge is under a sterner microscope than other members of the public as ‘there is no higher order of fiduciary responsibility than that assumed by a judge’ “