On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Bergen County, Docket Nos. P-263-08 and P-264-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 29, 2011
Remanded by Supreme Court June 5, 2012
Resubmitted June 21, 2012
Before Judges Fisher, Baxter and Nugent.
These appeals relate to two probate actions commenced by appellant Ricki Singer (Ricki) as the guardian ad litem of her son, Daniel Martin Singer (Daniel). The actions concern two trusts, the 1994 and 1999 trusts. Daniel is the beneficiary of both trusts; Ricki's brother, Steven Singer (Steven), is the trustee of both trusts. The actions (hereafter "the 1994 trust action" and "the 1999 trust action") relate to Steven's management of the trusts.
In a prior opinion in these appeals, we: reversed the trial court order that removed Ricki from her position as Daniel's guardian ad litem in the 1994 trust action; vacated the order that approved a settlement reached on Daniel's behalf in the 1994 trust action following Ricki's removal; and remanded for further proceedings in the 1994 trust action. In re Brandes, Nos. A-1998-09, A-6049-09, and A-6050-09 (App. Div. Jan. 11, 2012) (slip op. at 2-3). We also "set aside" the disposition of the fee applications in the 1994 trust suit, holding that they could be "renewed following the ultimate disposition of the merits of the 1994 trust suit or at any other occasion the [trial] court deems appropriate." Id. at 23. In addition, we determined that our reversal of the order removing Ricki as guardian ad litem had "no impact on the [trial] judge's disposition of the fee applications in the 1999 trust suit," and as to the issues on appeal regarding those fee applications, we found "insufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion." Ibid.
On June 5, 2012, the Supreme Court granted a petition for certification and "summarily remanded" to us "to address the fee issue on the merits in a written opinion." In accordance with that direction, we now amplify our earlier opinion.
FEE APPLICATIONS IN THE 1994 TRUST ACTION
In her appeal (No. A-1998-09), Ricki argues that the trial judge erred in denying her claim for nearly $800,000 in counsel fees and costs incurred in the 1994 trust action. In his cross-appeal, Steven argues that the judge erred in both failing to award any part of the approximately $635,000 in fees and costs he sought in connection with the 1994 trust action and in failing to render the findings of fact required by Rule 1:7-4(a). And, in their cross-appeal, defendants Romulus Holdings, Inc. and Remus Holdings, Inc., argue that the trial judge erred in denying their application for Ricki to pay the counsel fees they incurred in defense of Ricki's claim that they had conspired with Steven to defraud the 1994 trust.
In amplifying further in light of the Supreme Court's June 5, 2012 order, we would again hold that the disposition of all the fee applications in the 1994 trust action should abide the resolution of that action. Our judgment reversed the order removing Ricki as Daniel's guardian ad litem and vacated the order enforcing the settlement that was later reached by the substitute guardian ad litem. Because our judgment permits the continuation of the 1994 trust action, the disposition of the merits will have a profound effect on the issues raised by the parties in their fee applications. As a result, we concluded that those fee applications are better considered at a later occasion and we, thus, vacated the disposition of those fee applications, subjecting them to being renewed at a more propitious time.
In short, we continue to adhere to our prior judgment regarding the fee applications in the 1994 trust action. To the extent, however, the Supreme Court's June 5, 2012 order requires a decision on the propriety of the trial judge's disposition of the fee applications in the 1994 trust action -- should our disposition of the removal of Ricki ...