In 2003, Dr. Robert Binder retained attorney Richard Ledingham to draft a second codicil to a Last Will and Testament and First Codicil. Shortly after Dr. Binder died on August 1, 2011, Mary Kay Binder, decedent’s spouse – who was 88 years old at the time – retained attorney Ledingham to represent her as Executrix of his estate. The retainer agreement provided for a rate of $175 per hour. Attorney Ledingham did not collect a retainer. Ultimately, he billed Mrs. Binder for 674 hours, for a total fee of $120,275.25, of which she paid $88,199.68. Soon thereafter, Mrs. Binder terminated the representation.

On July 5, 2012, attorney Ledingham forgave the balance of legal fees and promised to deliver all necessary paperwork to subsequent counsel. Subsequent counsel began the estate work anew, filed all the necessary tax returns, and billed Mrs. Binder $9,412.50. Local counsel in Vermont was engaged to handle ancillary property issues in that state, for an additional $3,500 fee.

An ethics complaint was filed, charging attorney Ledingham with violating RPC 1.5(a) (unreasonable fee) and RPC 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation). At the hearing, an expert witness testified that 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 recommended disbarment and the New Jersey Supreme Court disbarred attorney Ledingham. According to the review board, attorney 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.” The Supreme Court held as follows:

Here, respondent’s fees were utterly unreasonable and inconsistent with the factors of RPC1.5(a) to such an extent that his overreaching also violated RPC8.4(c). In light of the magnitude of respondent’s overbilling, his lack of contrition, his prior suspension for substantially similar conduct, the vulnerability of his victim, and for the protection of the public, we recommend respondent’s disbarment.

The Decision is annexed here – Ledingham Disbarment Decision

The Order is annexed here – Ledingham Order of Disbarment

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