Clapp, Jayne and Francis.
[43 NJSuper Page 415] The sole question presented by this appeal is whether the counsel fee of $18,000 allowed to the attorney for the estate is excessive. The same problem was presented earlier to Part B of this Division. However, then it appeared that the matter had been handled summarily by the County Court on conflicting affidavits. Consequently, the record was remanded for full hearing and for the presentation of such relevant testimony as the parties wished to offer. In re Bloomer's Estate , 37 N.J. Super. 85 (App. Div. 1955).
Following the remand, testimony was taken for four full days and a number of exhibits were introduced. The printed appendix now submitted to us contains 404 pages, of which 264 pages represent testimony and the remainder exhibits, affidavits, the pleadings and judgment. At the conclusion of the final day of the hearing, the trial court delivered an oral opinion in which he stated that he had not only heard the witnesses, but also had reread the affidavits and the transcript of the testimony taken on the three previous hearing days, and that after considering the entire record, he had come to certain conclusions:
(1) That the services rendered by the attorney were all of a legal nature;
(2) That the services were rightfully performed in the course of duty as legal representative of the estate;
(3) That certain services, particularly a federal tax matter involving the problem of whether a $130,000 transaction appearing on the books of one of the decedent's corporations as a loan to him was in fact a dividend, required skill, tact and legal knowledge far above ordinary talent;
(4) That the handling of the estate "enriched" it;
(5) That the portions of the work which were criticized as not being necessary or in the interest of the estate were incidents of his obligation as attorney;
(6) That the services generally were executed skillfully, with success and were of great benefit to the estate;
(7) That the gross estate of decedent amounted to approximately $600,000. (The account listed the gross at $599,127; counsel for the interested legatee claimed that the correct amount is $469,127 because the $130,000 corporate loan to the decedent should be deducted from the value of his stock interest in the corporation.)
Therefore he determined that a fee of $18,000 was reasonable and directed its payment.
Counsel fee allowance is a matter which rests in the sound discretion of the trial court. An appellate tribunal will not interfere unless the record discloses manifest misuse of the discretion. In re Broad Street National Bank of Trenton , 37 N.J. Super. 171, 174 (App. Div. 1955).
The fixing of counsel fees is notoriously a matter of great delicacy and difficulty. No yardstick is available for the purpose; no standard ...