Obert Law Group, P.A.et al. v. HoltAnnotate this Case
Dr. Edwin Holt died tragically by his own hand at age forty-five. He left five minor children. At the time of his death, Dr. Holt was finalizing a divorce in Texas and seeking to have his dental license reinstated in Mississippi. Dr. Holt had hired first-year attorney Joshua Stretch to represent him in the dental-licensure matter. Due to his inexperience, Stretch associated more seasoned attorneys at Obert Law Group, Keith Obert and William Brown. When Dr. Holt died, Stretch still held $73,000 as a yet-to-be-earned retainer on the licensure issue. Stretch drove Dr. Holt’s mother, Janet Holt, to the funeral. He told her he wanted to handle estate matters. In all, Stretch, Obert, and occasionally Brown's efforts included locating and protecting estate assets and dealing with Dr. Holt’s ex-wife, who strenuously asserted the divorce was never finalized so she was Dr. Holt’s heir and not her five minor children. Stretch did not return the remainder of the prior dental-licensure retainer to Dr. Holt’s estate. Instead, he submitted this money to Obert Law Group, which in turn used this money to pay its first $73,000 in bills to the estate. After exhausting this money, Obert Law Group billed the executrix. The attorneys did not seek prior court approval of their attorney’s fees. Nor did they advise the executrix the bills should be court-approved before she paid them. Instead, because Janet believed she had no reason to question the invoices, she simply wrote checks from the estate to pay the invoices submitted to her, totaling $110,800. Their representation of the estate ended when Janet petitioned the court to replace Stretch, Obert, and Brown with new counsel. At this point, their motion for final accounting and attorney’s fees had yet to be approved by the court. And before approval, the trustee of the revocable trust established by Dr. Holt, to which he had bequeathed the residuary of his estate for the benefit of his family, petitioned the court for the return of all the fees they had collected. The trustee asserted Obert Law Group had never sought preapproval of its attorney’s fees and had never advised Janet of her duty to first seek court approval before paying Obert Law Group with estate assets. The trustee also alleged Obert Law Group padded its bills and mismanaged the estate. After a two-day hearing, the chancellor determined only $96,951 of the attorney’s fees in the estate matter were reasonable. So he ordered Obert Law Group reimburse the estate $84,945. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor's decision, finding the chancellor carefully considered Obert Law Group’s evidence and the factors for reasonable attorney’s fees set forth in Mississippi Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5, and it was not an abuse of discretion to order return of the fees.