The New York Law Journal by Daniel Wise - July 9, 2010
Michael Lippman, who had been counsel to the public administrator in the Bronx for more than 30 years when he was terminated in April 2009, pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of taking excessive fees for his work on five estates, amounting to $300,000. A 15-count indictment brought by the Bronx District Attorney's Office also accused Mr. Lippman of filing false documents to conceal the excessive fees. Mr. Lippman surrendered yesterday and prosecutors agreed to his release without bail by Acting Supreme Court Justice Steven L. Barrett. Mr. Lippman's lawyer, Murray Richman, said "there is no basis for the charges." The alleged thefts took place before guidelines set in 2002 by the Administrative Board of the Offices of the Public Administrators were adopted, he added. The guidelines set a fee of 6 percent on the first $750,000 of an estate with the percentage decreasing incrementally on greater amounts. Mr. Lippman also was accused of concealing his overcharges from Bronx Surrogate Lee L. Holzman by misstating in court documents the amounts he had taken from the estates. If convicted of the top charge, second-degree grand larceny, Mr. Lippman could be sentenced to a maximum of five to 15 years in prison. The New York Daily News first reported in October 2009 that Mr. Lippman was being investigated by the New York City Department of Investigation and the Bronx District Attorney's Office. The indictment names five cases: Estate of Cushman, Estate of Greenbaum, Estate of McGoldrick, Estate of Laskhoff and Estate of Risso. One source close to the investigation said thefts had occurred in far more than the five case and that Mr. Lippman used money taken in new cases to replenish funds missing from older matters.
Excessive fees was an issue in 2005 when the New York Court of Appeals removed then-Brooklyn Surrogate Michael R. Feinberg from the bench for routinely awarding 8 percent fees to the then-counsel for the Brooklyn public administrator, Louis R. Rosenthal. Mr. Rosenthal was suspended for two years and the Attorney General's Office has taken legal action to recover the excessive fees from him. No criminal charges were brought against either Mr. Feinberg or Mr. Rosenthal. There is no suggestion in the indictment that Surrogate Holzman was aware that Mr. Lippman had charged excessive fees. In fact, in a statement distributed by the Bronx District Attorneys Office, prosecutors said that "in some instances" Mr. Lippman underreported his fees "in reports filed with the court to hide the excessive fees." The indictment also accused Mr. Lippman of taking advances for his fees from the estates. The guidelines do not specifically address the issue of "advance fees," but the practice in Manhattan for many years has been for counsel to the public administrator to submit for 60 percent of the fee when an accounting is filed and the remaining 40 percent when the decree is issued. Mr. Richman vowed a vigorous defense, saying that the alleged criminal acts took place after the five-year statute of limitations had expired. The only way that those acts could be prosecuted, he said, would be if the position of "counsel to the public administrator" were to be considered a public officer, in which case the statute would run for 10 years. Given that the counsel position is created by statute, he said such a legal conclusion was unlikely. Mr. Richman also said that to focus on five cases out of the roughly 1,000 that Mr. Lippman handled during the seven years covered by the indictment made it a "stretch" to maintain he had a criminal intent. He added that Mr. Lippman may have charged fees before he knew the size of an estate or the amount of work involved, but he returned the amounts when he realized the changed circumstances. The counsel to the public administrator processes the estates of persons who die without a will and with no close relative to wrap up their affairs. A joint statement issued yesterday by Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson and Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn also asserted that Mr. Lippman had been tardy in filing accounting, resulting in estates "lingering for years." Daniel Wise can be reached at email@example.com.
Michael Lippman, lawyer for Bronx Public Administrator, stole $300,000, prosecutors charge
The New York Daily News by Brendan Brosh - July 9, 2010
His job was to help the living. Instead, a ruthless Bronx lawyer plundered $300,000 from the estates of the dead, prosecutors charge. Lawyer Michael Lippman, counsel to the Bronx public administrator from 1983 through last year, surrendered yesterday to face charges of billing for work he never performed on five estates. Lippman, whose shenanigans were first exposed by the Daily News last year, was arraigned in Bronx Supreme Court on charges that could put him in jail for up to 15 years.
Public administrators are supposed to find heirs when someone dies without a will, and then fairly distribute an estate's assets as quickly as possible. The survivors are often vulnerable families unfamiliar with the intricacies of probate law. The city Department of Investigation charged Lippman repeatedly took advance fees from the estates without court approval. In each case, the bill was either inflated or for work that was never done. DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said Lippman used his position "to extract excessive and unearned fees from the estates of deceased Bronx residents." He pleaded not guilty and was released without bail. His lawyer, Murray Richman, said the statute of limitations had expired on the charges of grand larceny, scheming to defraud and falsifying business records. Lippman pocketed more than $1.5 million in upfront fees between 2005 and April 2008, before he was dogged with questions about the practice. Records show that during that time, Lippman was drowning in debt - facing foreclosure on a $400,000 mortgage, $1 million in gambling losses and $600,000 in unpaid taxes. Richman said the Bronx district attorney's office was meddling in a lawyer's ability to run his business. "It puts a chilling effect on all attorneys charging fees because the district attorney has the opportunity to look over what fees can be charged," he said. Lippman is expected back in court in October.
Bronx lawyer in 300G bust
The New York Post by DAVID SEIFMAN - July 9, 2010
The longtime counsel to the Bronx Public Administrator was indicted yesterday on charges of swiping more than $300,000 in legal fees to which he wasn't entitled. Michael Lippman, 65, of Scarsdale, was accused of drawing advance fees without court approval from five estates since 2002 and in amounts that exceeded the legal limits. The public administrator oversees the estates of those who die without a will. Lippman, who served in his post from 1983 until April 2009, faces numerous felony counts that could land him in prison for up to 15 years upon conviction. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment. Murray Richman, Lippman's lawyer, said his client handled thousands of estates over the years and drew money from estates for legal work that he did.