In New York comes word of an attorney being ordered to repay $403,000 for mishandling a judge’s estate. To wit:

Nearly half of the $403,000 Ambrosio ordered Taylor to pay to Phillips’ estate stemmed from her handling of the $696,000 in net proceeds from a court-approved sale of one of Phillips’ properties.

Taylor acknowledged taking the funds from the proceeds to cover legal fees for work she performed for Phillips before she was appointed his guardian. The payments were made without court approval.

Citing the difficulty of determining the "precise amount" Taylor had paid herself for legal work without court approval, Ambrosio ordered her to repay the $197,000 she admitted taking from the proceeds.

"What exactly she purports to have done to earn $2,500 a week in counsel fees from [Phillips’] funds for seventy-four straight weeks remains a mystery," the judge wrote. "In paying herself counsel fees without any prior court approval, Taylor made herself final arbiter of the reasonableness of her fees. This self-dealing conduct clearly conflicted with her obligation as guardian."

Taylor was suspended late last year from the practice of law by the Appellate Division, 1st Department. Ambrosio wrote that she was suspended for "at best, withdrawing funds from the guardianship account for legal fees without court permission, or, at worst, intentionally converting guardianship funds."

Yep, that will do it. The unauthorized taking of client funds, particularly where the client is incompetent, dead, or otherwise unable to defend themselves, is the surest way to get hit with malpractice and/or a judicial order compelling repayment.

Regardless of if you take any, always know by what right you’re even touching the client’s funds.