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ADOPTION B.A.B. (04/24/86)

filed: April 24, 1986.




C. Walter Whitmoyer, Jr., Lebanon, for appellant.

Cirillo, President Judge, and Del Sole and Beck, JJ.

Author: Cirillo

[ 352 Pa. Super. Page 446]

This is an appeal from an order dismissing the exceptions of Attorney A,*fn1 appellant herein. The sole issue presented is whether the hearing court abused its discretion in ordering the reduction of a fee charged by Attorney A for services rendered in connection with an uncontested private adoptive placement.

The facts disclosed by the record may be summarized as follows. Appellees, Mr. and Mrs. B, were interested in adopting a child. Appellees learned through relatives that the unborn child of Miss C might be available for a private adoptive placement. Appellees then contacted Attorney A and requested that he represent them in the potential adoption proceedings. Mr. and Mrs. B inquired as to the cost of Attorney A's services and were told that he would

[ 352 Pa. Super. Page 447]

    accept the case at an hourly rate of $60.00. Billing was to be done on the basis of a time record kept by Attorney A. The parties agreed that Attorney A's fee would be based upon actual time and labor expended and not upon the success or failure of the adoption. The Bs requested that Attorney A conduct the adoption proceedings so as to preserve their anonymity.

Attorney A performed a variety of services during the twenty months between his initial consultation with Mr. and Mrs. B and the final hearing on the B's petition for adoption. Attorney A drafted and filed various legal documents relating to the adoptive proceeding, consulted with and advised his clients, attended hearings, and corresponded with other attorneys and the courts. Attorney A also met with Miss C and her family, made financial arrangements for the Bs to pay Miss C's medical expenses, obtained Miss C's and the natural father's consents, provided Miss C with a birth certificate and photographs of the child, obtained medical records, and was present at the hospital during the physical transfer of the child to the Bs. Attorney A was required to travel to a county at the other end of the state to testify as an intermediary at the final hearing.

Attorney A provided Mr. and Mrs. B with itemized bills on a periodic basis, which the Bs paid without objection. The total amount requested by Attorney A as compensation for his services was $3,160.00, not including $228.00 in transportation costs incurred as a result of traveling to the final hearing.

An examination of the record, including a transcript of testimony taken at the final hearing, reveals that neither the court nor Mr. and Mrs. B doubted that Attorney A had actually performed all of the services indicated on the bills and time sheets submitted to the hearing court.*fn2 Further, local counsel for Mr. and Mrs. B testified that Attorney A's services were satisfactory in all respects. The Bs do not argue differently on appeal and they do not challenge the existence or validity of their agreement with Attorney A.

[ 352 Pa. Super. Page 448]

At the final hearing, the court, acting sua sponte, raised a question as to the amount of appellant's fee. Attorney A testified at length concerning the services rendered and made available detailed bills and time sheets for the court's inspection. The court ordered that Attorney A reduce his fee to $1200.00 and remit the balance to Mr. and Mrs. B, but allowed an additional $228.00 for travel expenses. In its opinion, the court, sitting en banc, based its decision in part upon its understanding that the receipt of compensation for services rendered as an intermediary constitutes "dealing in humanity," and thus a misdemeanor pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 4305. The court further noted that, in its view, Attorney A's fees for legal services also constituted a violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 4305 to the extent that they were ". . . beyond what is reasonable . . . ." The court took notice of the fact that $600.00 was the maximum fee charged by attorneys in that county for services in connection with an adoption. Finally, the court indicated that, in its view, charging for non-legal services rendered as an intermediary or overcharging for legal services in an adoption case is a violation of ...

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