LAS VEGAS — Liberace's attorney testified Tuesday that he made more than $400,000 in legal fees in 1987 for his work on the late entertainer's estate and trusts.
Beverly Hills attorney Joel Strote defended the fees as reasonable for the amount of work he did as executor of Liberace's estate and trustee for two trusts set up by the famed pianist.
"This was anything but a windfall," said Strote, who billed the estate $58,475 in one month alone. "This was a very difficult job that took up almost all of my waking hours."
Strote said he charged $250 an hour for his work on the estate and trusts, which he was named by Liberace to manage only days before the entertainer died Feb. 5, 1987. He estimated the value of Liberace's estate at $11 million.
The testimony came in the third day of hearings on a suit in state district court by five Liberace associates seeking to remove Strote as trustee of the Liberace Foundation and executor of the late entertainer's will.
The five include Liberace's sister, Angie; his longtime manager, Seymour Heller; housekeepers Dorothy McMahon and Gladys Luckie, and Cary James, Liberace's live-in companion for the last seven years of his life.
Strote admitted on the stand that he was charging the same $250 an hour for the time he was spending defending the suit, including his testimony on the stand.
"It has been told to me by my lawyers that it is proper (to bill the time)," he said.
Strote defended his dual role in also serving as the trustee who oversees the late entertainer's multimillion-dollar estate while being grilled extensively about provisions in Liberace's will.
Strote said he did not see anything improper in serving both as the attorney who drafted the will and the trustee who oversees the estate.
"I expected as trustee to do all the services required of me and to be paid for it," Strote said, when asked if he had benefited as trustee.
Strote said he did not discuss fees with Liberace when he outlined provisions of the will three weeks before Liberace died from complications of AIDS.
Under questioning, Strote said he had not paid the five plaintiffs as provided in the Liberace will, setting aside their monies pending the outcome of the current litigation.