A Case About Nothing

By Doug Chalgian on June 8, 2024

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You gotta love this one.

Or not.

This same case provided one entertaining post in 2022 when first came up to the Court of Appeals.  In that opinion, the trial judge colorfully ranted about the manner in which a vulnerable adult’s estate and trust had been dissipated by legal fees and costs and, in that context, dissolved a trust at issue without legal justification.  The decision to dissolve the trust was reversed, and the case was remanded on other issues.

We learn now that, on remand, the rant not only continued but went to another level.

To Read In Re Edward and Elaine Jaye Trust, click here.  The case is unpublished.

[Click here to read my post about the 2022 COA decision: Judge Rips Lawyers and Gets Reversed (but not Removed).]

The Story Goes

Ms. Jaye apparently had some money at one point when she lived in Nevada. But between overreaching family members and endless excessive litigation, by the time this case is being decided (after her move to Michigan), there isn’t much money left.  And, what really triggers this trial judge is that basically all the money that is left is being claimed for fees by the massive number of lawyers involved. [I count nine firms on the entitlement, excluding the appellee/lawyer/trustee/conservator to whom the trial judge attributes no abuse.]

In this rendition, the COA again recites many of the “colorful” comments made by the trial judge about the wastefulness of this litigation, and then takes up the cause as its own.  Here, we find the COA cheering on the trial judge for doing what needs to be done to reign in the lawyers involved.


In between all of that there are some points about making claims against a trust or conservatorship estate for legal fees, that (in addition to the trial judge’s colorful rants) make the case worth reading.

The COA holds that although MCL 700.7904(1) allows a probate judge to award legal fees to a party who “enhances, preserves, or protects trust property” that statute does not require the court to do so even if that standard is met.  Rather, notwithstanding a benefit to the trust, the trial judge may disallow such a claim “as justice and equity require.”

And, according to this COA panel, the claims procedures provided in MCL 700.7605(1) does not allow for claims against a revocable trust so long as the settlor is alive.  That, despite language in the law which says “without regard to the settlor’s mental capacity.”  (Hmmm. Don’t know about that.)

Thoughts (on a Sensitive Subject)

I don’t know anything about this case, except what I read.  Our firm was thankfully not among the “glut of lawyers” claiming fees from this dissipated trust and conservatorship estate. Accordingly, I want to be cautious about coming off holier than thou.

But I do know something about wasteful litigation.  And what I know is that it goes on.

I think I also know that when clients are fighting about money they don’t have, and only hope to have, or would rather see pissed away on legal fees than end up in the hands of their disliked relatives, they can be exploited.  In those situations, it may be too easy to fall into the trap of going along with these clients.  While I don’t think that judges have a role in protecting foolish people from themselves, I think lawyers have an obligation to not allow their skills to promote wastefulness, especially the wasteful use of court resources.

I don’t love judges who don’t like lawyers, and who think they (the lawyers) make too much money – and those judges are out there (mostly government lawyers who never worked in private practice but who get appointed to the bench).  Yet, I can appreciate judges who check lawyers when litigation does become wasteful.  It seems to me that this case is more the latter.

Among the trial judge’s comments is a comparison of this case to the Seinfeld TV show, in that, like the show, this case “is about nothing.”

Love the show.

But it’s a bad look for us lawyers.



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mm By: Doug Chalgian
Doug Chalgian

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