The Supreme Court of New Jersey disbarred an attorney who charged his client more than $120,000 for work that an expert witness concluded could have been done for $15,000.
The Oct. 29 ruling affirmed the findings of the court’s disciplinary review board, which determined that Richard Ledingham had charged an unreasonable fee and acted dishonestly.
“In light of the magnitude of respondent’s overbilling, his lack of contrition, his prior suspension for substantially similar conduct, the vulnerability of his victim, and for the protection of the public, we recommend respondent’s disbarment,” the review board wrote in August.
Ledingham was hired in 2011 by an 88-year-old widow to represent her as executrix of her husband’s estate. He ultimately billed her more than $120,000 for his work.
An expert testified at Ledingham’s disciplinary hearing that the work would have taken him 25 to 30 hours and the ultimate fee would have been $15,500.
In his defense, Ledingham cited the complexity of the will and related estate issues. The expert countered that the estate didn’t present unusual tax issues, and the amount of time that Ledingham spent on them far exceeded the number of hours that any other estate attorney would have billed.
In imposing the sanction, the disciplinary review board noted that Ledingham charged his client “almost eight times the amount of the fee considered reasonable,” and were thus “utterly excessive, unreasonable, and inconsistent with professional conduct rules.
The case is In the Matter of Ledingham, N.J., No. 19-021, 10/29/19.