Lloyd G. Copenbarger comes close to being a jack-of-all-trades, court records show.
During the past six years, he has received substantial fees from the Hazel I. Maag estate for serving not only as her attorney and trustee, but also as a packer, construction supervisor, building superintendent and even inspector of orange groves.
The Irvine lawyer's billings, both small and large, have been questioned by an independent court-appointed attorney, Michael D. Pursell of Orange, who states bluntly that Copenbarger "overcharged the estate for his services and (the services) of people he employed"--several of whom were his family members.
Copenbarger recently submitted 1,500 pages of documents to the state attorney general, calling the allegations "spurious in nature and without foundation in fact."
But Copenbarger's stewardship of the Maag trust is now under scrutiny by the State Bar of California, which is also trying to determine whether he violated the rules of professional conduct while handling the late octogenarian's $24-million estate.
Pursell's report, filed on May 6, 1992, in Orange County Superior Court, paints a picture of an attorney-trustee who benefited tremendously from his client's estate by writing hefty checks to himself and his family members.
Apart from receiving "exorbitant" compensation for his own services, Pursell said, Copenbarger paid at least $360,000 in legal fees and expenses submitted by his brother, Paul Copenbarger of Irvine; and at least $100,000 in wages "and reimbursements" to his son and daughter-in-law, Larry and Judi Copenbarger, both students at Western State University College of Law in Irvine.
Among the accounting entries questioned by Pursell in Maag's estate are: 47 hours in 1989 by Lloyd Copenbarger for packing Maag's personal belongings so that her Anaheim Hills house could be renovated; 216 hours in 1990 for "reviewing ranch property" and another 131 hours in 1991 for "reviewing properties."
Pursell also questioned the "excessive" legal fees paid to Paul Copenbarger, including $288,000 in 1990. According to Pursell, Paul Copenbarger billed the estate for working 21.9 hours in a single day. And, in a separate accounting entry, both Paul and Lloyd Copenbarger billed the estate 10.5 hours twice for performing the same services.
The court-appointed attorney's report noted that Lloyd Copenbarger, who operates a busy law practice with offices in Pasadena and Irvine, spent an "extraordinary number of hours per month" on the Maag trust. In another four-month period in 1991, Copenbarger claimed that he worked an average 82 hours a month on the Maag estate.
Pursell also said he found it unusual that an attorney would spend huge amounts of time performing tasks that others were already paid to do. For example, Copenbarger billed the estate for inspecting orange groves when a farmer was already hired for that purpose.
One of Lloyd Copenbarger's entries describes some of his tasks: "Review of ranch property, check oranges to see if suckered, check pruning of dead branches, check for foreign tree growth in grove, check avocado trees, check windbreak trees for beetle infestation, check rose garden, flower beds and grounds. Check Hazel's care, visit vegetable garden with Hazel, check buildings and fences."
In an interview with The Times, Copenbarger defended his billings for walking through the orange groves.
"I was like the owner of the orange groves," he said. "I wanted to make sure that the workmen did what we paid them to do. . . . I would not say I'm an expert on citrus, but I can recognize some of the diseases, and (I) would know when it requires an expert to step in."
Copenbarger has filed voluminous responses to what Pursell identified as "discrepancies." He said he found it necessary to pack Maag's personal belongings because at that time her house was being renovated and "it required the expertise of someone who would recognize which papers were important and which were not."
Some of the 216 hours billed in 1990 for reviewing ranch property included, among other things, supervising "the re-roofing of Maag's commercial warehouse . . . replacement of four commercial air-conditioning units . . . repainting of the commercial warehouse building . . . (and) replacement of four overhead doors in the truck loading area."
Copenbarger acknowledged in documents sent to the attorney general that he billed the estate twice for the same services on one occasion, but he said it was an "inadvertent error in his billing process and the account will be adjusted accordingly."
But he took issue with Pursell for questioning the legal fees paid to his brother. "Pursell was just taking cheap shots," he said. Those fees were no higher than the fees he agreed to pay two opposing attorneys in the case, he said. The estate was involved in a "hotly contested" court action with Maag's relatives and it made sense to hire Paul Copenbarger because he was very familiar with the issues, Lloyd Copenbarger said.