Friday, June 21, 2019
Presiding Justice Rubin Says Former Superior Court Judge House Correctly Rejected Contentions of Attorney Who Contested Ruling by Another Judge
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An attorney for the executors of an estate who exacted fees for her services without the required court order and was compelled by a judge to return most of what she received has lost her appeal from a decision by another judge declining to restore the disgorged funds to her and spurning her request that she be awarded extraordinary fees.
Presiding Justice Laurence D. Rubin of Div. Five wrote the opinion, which was filed Wednesday and not certified for publication.
The attorney is Anju Multani, whose office is in Downey. Multani billed and received $39,219 in connection with the estate of Rose Bozigian before being replaced by other counsel.
Through their new attorney, the co-executors in April 2016 filed a petition for approval of a final accounting in which they sought a disgorgement of funds from Multani.
Multani responded by filing a petition on May 24 of that year seeking an award of extraordinary fees. The court set her petition for hearing on Dec. 7 in Department 29 of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse where then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Thornton House (now a private judge) sat.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 1, 2016, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Murphy, who also handled aspects of the litigation, approved the final accounting which provided:
“Anju Multani, former attorney for Co-Executors, is ordered to return $39,219 to the estate, less her share of statutory fees totaling $6,339.95.”
House then held a hearing on Dec. 7 on Multani’s petition, and held further ones in 2017 on March 16, July 5, Oct. 4, and Dec. 1. On Jan. 29, 2018, the judge ruled:
“[T]he Court now has determined that petitioner’s request must be DENIED. This is an order made by Judge Murphy, to which petitioner had notice of on October 26, 2016 for return of fees. No objections were filed to this order, no request for reconsideration was made, and no appeal of the order has been filed. Instead, petitioner has filed repeated declarations in support of her fees, but they have already been denied and she has been ordered to return them to the estate. This court has no power or jurisdiction to change another judge’s order.”
The ruling reflects bewilderment over Multani seeking extraordinary fees from the estate while representing that the $39,219 paid by the co-executors reflected payment for legal work performed not for the estate, but for them, in litigation in which they participated partly in their individual capacities.
Rubin said in the opinion affirming House:
“Multani argues the trial court erred in ‘summarily’ dismissing her May 2016 petition for fees without a hearing. Multani further contends the court erred when it concluded that it could not consider her request for fees because another judge had already decided the amount of fees which Multani was awarded. We disagree with Multani’s characterization of the record, and find the court did not abuse its discretion.”
The jurist declared:
“[T]he record establishes Multani was present at multiple hearings on her petition, and the court considered the evidence presented. There was no summary dismissal of the petition.”
Further Contentions Rejected
He also said:
“Although Multani argues that the trial court’s November 1, 2016 accounting did not encompass the issue of her entitlement to extraordinary fees, the record does not support her claim.”
Rubin wrote that the record reflects that the lawyer was, despite her protest to the contrary, given notice of the hearing on the accounting.
The case is Estate of Bozigian, B289171.
Multani appeared in pro per, as did the co-executors.
On Oct. 19, 2016, Multani received a public reproval from the State Bar for receiving fees from a conservatorship without a prior nod from the court and, when a court ordered her to make a partial refund, she didn’t.
A stipulation recites that a conservator paid Multani “$33,814.50 for attorney fees without prior court order and consequently, respondent must return these funds to the conservatorship.”
It sets forth that on June 23, 2014, a Superior Court judge (Murphy) determined that Multani was entitled to $16,814 in attorney fees and costs of $1,517 which she had advanced. He ordered disgorgement of $15,483.50 in unearned fees and $4,733.59 representing the conservatorship’s cost of suit—adding up to $20,217.09—plus postjudgment interest.
The stipulation says:
“Having full knowledge of the court’s order, respondent had an affirmative duty to comply with the court’s order or seek appropriate relief from the court to delay or stay her compliance, rather than simply sit back and wait for the conservator to initiate judgment enforcement proceedings against her.”
She subsequently made a refund.
Multani was the 1995-1996 president of the South Asian Bar Association of Southern California.
Copyright 2019, Metropolitan News Company