Cite as E066177
Filed August 22, 2018, Fourth District, Div. Two
By Matthew R. Owens
Withers Bergman LLP
Christie, a professional fiduciary, served as conservator of Lorraine’s person and estate until Lorraine died in 2015. After Lorraine’s death, Christie filed a combined petition seeking (1) approval of her final accounting and (2) conservator’s fees. At the hearing, the probate court expressed concern over Christie’s billing practices, including what appeared to be duplicate time entries charged to several different client files. The probate court, on its own motion, reviewed and took judicial notice of court records in 15 of Christie’s cases in two counties to further evaluate whether her pending fee request was reasonable. The court found that the billing-related portion of Christie’s accounting contained substantial errors that rendered her fees excessive, and therefore reduced Christie’s fees by more than $5,000. Christie appealed.
The appellate court affirmed. The probate court had cited the wrong statute—Probate Code section 2620—as authority for the procedure it used to review Christie’s billing practices. Section 2620 governs scrutiny of accountings, and since a conservator’s fees are not part of an accounting, the powers granted to the court under Section 2620(d) did not apply to Christie’s billing practices. By requesting fees in her accounting petition she did not convert her fee request into an accounting. The error was harmless, however, because probate courts have ample authority to control and regulate the actions of court-appointed agents such as conservators. Here, that authority included the power to review Christie’s fees for abusive or erroneous billing practices, even on the court’s own motion. In conducting its review of Christie’s fees, the probate court considered the appropriate factors. Also, the probate court did not err when it reviewed final orders from some of Christie’s other cases since its ruling was limited to the petition pending before it and did not impact the finality of those other cases.