Cite as A160473
Filed July 7, 2021
First District, Div. Four
By Golnaz Yazdchi
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP
Headnote: Conservatorships – Public Guardians – Attorney’s Fees Orders
Summary: The court cannot delegate to the public guardian its discretion to determine whether compensation to the public guardian and its counsel would pose an economic hardship to the conservatee.
A.B. was the subject of conservatorships on and off for twenty years. The public guardian, represented by county counsel, most recently served as conservator from 2016 until 2019, when the conservatorship was terminated. The public guardian and county counsel had been awarded fees annually, but given the conservatee’s lack of resources, the orders approving fees had indicated that collection “will be deferred to a future date if collection will be a hardship for conservatee.” At issue was the latest compensation order, which included the same language about collection at a future date. A.B. appealed the order on the grounds that there was insufficient information about the services rendered or regarding A.B.’s financial circumstances, and that the court improperly delegated its authority to the public guardian by directing the agency to defer compensation until a future time if the public guardian determined that collection would present a hardship.
The Appellate Court reversed. The public guardian and its attorney are entitled to fees from the estate of the conservatee in an amount that the court finds “just and reasonable.” Factors that are taken into consideration include the costs of the services provided, the size of the estate, the special value of the services provided in relation to the size of the estate, and whether compensation would impose an economic hardship on the estate. The public guardian is not required to base compensation upon an hourly rate of service. A.B. argued that the public guardian’s fee petition lacked specificity because it contained entries such as “court matters,” without greater detail, or “visits,” without specifying with whom those visits were or the result of such visits. Though the information provided was limited, it included the number of hours spent on conservatee’s care and services, and the amount requested ($1,569.79) was less than a quarter of the amount authorized by the local rules; thus, there was a sufficient showing to support the court’s finding that the services were reasonable. However, because the order failed to indicate whether the compensation would pose an economic hardship, and instead improperly delegated the court’s discretion to the public guardian by deferring collection if the public guardian deemed collection to impose economic hardship, the order did not comply with the letter of the law.