On September 23, 2005 the Daily Business Review reported that Broward County probate judge Mel Grossman ordered Fort Lauderdale attorney Stephen Rakusin to return $1.6 million in fees and costs that were challenged by Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary, a Russian Orthodox monastery. The Monastery was represented by Robert Judd, a partner at Gunster Yoakley in Fort Lauderdale, in connection with the fee dispute.
According to the Daily Business Review, judge Grossman ruled that under the “Maxcy rule” (see Maxcy v. Citizens National Bank of Orlando, 240 So.2d 93 (Fla. 2d DCA 1970)), after four years of work on the case attorneys Stephen Rakusin and Craig Donoff (both of whom were engaged by the personal representative of the estate) would have to contend themselves with a $151,500 flat-fee originally negotiated by Donoff. Judge Grossman ruled that Rakusin’s billing was a violation of the Maxcy rule because he was contracted to perform the same legal services on an hourly basis that Donoff had agreed to do for a flat fee.
Lesson learned: In probate, winning is only half the battle. Getting paid for your work is often just as difficult and hotly contested as the underlying litigation.