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A.G. Schneiderman Announces Recovery Of $165,000 Wrongly Taken By Estate Lawyers

Recovered Funds Will Be Used To Provide College Scholarships For Students From Clinton and Franklin Counties

Schneiderman: This Sort Of Misconduct Is An Insult To All New Yorkers

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman recently announced that his office recovered $165,212 that had been wrongly taken by David Marshall and Charles J. Kramer, Jr., lawyers for the estate of former Lyon Mountain resident Joseph Warsen. Marshall and Kramer drained the estate, which was originally intended to support scholarships for North Country students at the State University of New York, of nearly a third of its value through improper, superfluous fees. The funds recovered by Attorney General Schneiderman will be used to provide college scholarships for students from Clinton and Franklin Counties.

“These attorneys improperly enriched themselves at the expense of North Country students,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “This sort of misconduct is an insult to all New Yorkers. I am gratified that my office will help carry out Mr. Warsen’s wish to endow college scholarships for local students.”

Joseph Warsen of Lyon Mountain, New York, died in the summer of 2011, leaving an estate worth roughly $950,000. His last will and testament appointed lawyers David Marshall of Plattsburgh and Charles J. Kramer, Jr. of New Jersey as co-executors and attorneys, with clear instructions that all of his estate—after a few small gifts to friends—should go to fund scholarships for North Country students pursuing higher education at the State University of New York.

Marshall and Kramer took more than $310,000 from the estate. The bulk these funds were taken by Marshall. Shortly before retiring from his Plattsburgh legal practice, Marshall paid himself more than $200,000 for supposed legal fees and expenses, on top of $32,741 in executor commissions.

Marshall billed the estate for such “legal expenses” as lunch and drinks for himself after the funeral and $500 for long-distance calls, even though long-distance service is now regularly included in the cost of most phone plans. Marshall also billed the estate $350 per hour for such menial tasks as meeting with contractors regarding the sump pump at Joseph Warsen’s home and making phone calls regarding Warsen’s dogs.

Under New York state law, attorney-executors must get prior court authorization to pay themselves. Marshall received no such authorization for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees that he collected. State law also prohibits attorney-executors from billing an estate for non-legal tasks since they are already compensated with an executor’s commission. In this case, Marshall’s executor’s commission was more than $30,000.

Earlier this summer, Attorney General Schneiderman flagged this misconduct for Clinton County Surrogate Judge Kevin K. Ryan, who immediately ordered Marshall to return all of his wrongly-taken fees to the estate.

Under the final settlement negotiated by Attorney General Schneiderman and approved today by Judge Ryan, Marshall will repay more than $150,000 in improper legal fees. Kramer, who has already repaid a $6,000 excess, will get to keep the bulk of his fees for the significant legal work he performed for the estate.

In addition, Attorney General Schneiderman secured the agreement of Marshall and Kramer to resign as co-executors of the estate. Judge Ryan appointed Clinton County Treasurer Kimberly Davis to ensure that the funds repaid by Marshall and Kramer will go to the State University of New York for North Country scholarships, as Warsen originally intended.

The case was handled by Plattsburgh Assistant Attorney General in Charge Glen Michaels, under the supervision of Executive Deputy Attorney General Marty Mack.