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Meyer v. Watras

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

May 10, 2017

COLETTE K. MEYER and MEYER LAW FIRM, Appellants,
v.
VICTORIA WATRAS, as Guardian of STAR ELIZABETH WATRAS-DONNALLY, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; Krista Marx, Judge; L.T. Case No. 2005GA000502 XXXXNB.

          Robin Bresky and Randall D. Burks of Law Offices of Robin Bresky, Boca Raton, for appellants.

          Charles H. Burns, Tequesta, for appellee.

          KLINGENSMITH, J.

         Appellants, Colette K. Meyer and Meyer Law Firm, served as counsel for the guardianship of a ward who is an incapacitated minor. They appeal the circuit court's final order that awarded them less than what they requested in their three petitions for attorney's fees and costs. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm in part and reverse in part with instructions.

         Appellants received $154, 468.24 in attorney's fees and costs from the guardianship for legal services performed between May 2013 and December 2014. On August 21, 2015, appellants filed a motion to voluntarily withdraw as counsel. That motion was granted six days later on August 27, 2015.

         Appellants then filed three petitions, requesting additional attorney's fees and costs. The first petition was for $77, 706.25 in fees and $2, 794.48 in costs incurred from December 1, 2014, through August 20, 2015. The second petition was for $9, 662.50 in fees and $1, 056.60 in costs incurred from August 13, 2015, through October 31, 2015. The third petition was for $13, 062.50 in fees and $437.50 in costs associated with filing the first two petitions and preparing for the fees hearing.

         The circuit court held an evidentiary hearing on the petitions where Meyer testified that the three petitions accurately reflected the time spent on this case, which she said was made difficult and time-consuming because the ward was a plaintiff and asked her firm for assistance in two complicated medical malpractice cases. However, even the expert hired by appellants testified that asking for over $250, 000 in attorney's fees for representing a guardianship for just over two years in a guardianship worth approximately $400, 000 appeared excessive.

         The court later issued its order, explaining that it was "troubled by such a large percentage of the guardianship being usurped for attorney's fees and costs by the guardian's former counsel who only served in that capacity from May of 2013 until August of 2015." In agreeing with the guardian's expert that appellants charged an excessive fee, the court found as follows:

1) the Meyer Law Firm bills in no less than quarter hour increments when tenths of an hour would be more appropriate in a guardianship matter;
2) time spent researching and drafting documents to convert this guardianship into a trust should not be charged to the guardianship;
3) time spent on a foreclosure matter for the ward's mother should not be charged against the guardianship;
4) work by paralegals, which appears essentially secretarial, should not be charged ...

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