This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).






In Re the Estate of:


David F. Joseph, Decedent.


Filed November 27, 2001

Reversed and remanded

Harten, Judge


Washington County District Court

File No. P8-91-402


Kevin K. Shoeberg, Kevin K. Shoeberg, P.A., Woodbury Business Center, 1805 Wooddale Drive, Suite 600, Woodbury, MN 55125 (for appellants)


Richard C. Ilkka, P.O. Box 313, Stillwater, MN 55082 (personal representative and counsel for respondent)


Julie Joseph, 333 Kingery Court, Addison, IL 60101-4119 (respondent pro se)


            Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Mulally, Judge.*


U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N




Appellants-attorneys contend that the district court abused its discretion by reducing the amount of attorney fees without making findings to explain the reduction.  Because the absence of findings precludes meaningful review, we reverse and remand.



In 1991, Julie Joseph retained appellant Eckberg, Lammers, Briggs, Wolff & Vierling, P.L.L.P. (Eckberg), a Stillwater law firm, to provide legal services relative to the estates of her father and her grandmother.  Appellant Kevin Shoeberg was then a member of the Eckberg law firm who worked on the case.  Several circumstances complicated the matter: Julie Joseph was personal representative of her father’s estate but not of her grandmother’s; her siblings were also heirs of her father’s estate and were dissatisfied with her serving as personal representative; her father was her grandmother’s sole heir and their deaths were separated by only three months; the father and grandmother had jointly owned some property; and the title to some of the real property in the father’s estate was not clear. 

By 1999, because appellants had not been paid fees they claimed were due them for their probate services, they filed fee and expense claims against the father’s estate.  Julie Joseph opposed the claims, dismissed the attorneys, and expressed her dissatisfaction with the district court judge who had been active on the case.  That judge then recused himself and was replaced by another judge, who removed Julie Joseph as personal representative and replaced her with an attorney, respondent Richard Ilkka.[1] 

Before the hearing, appellants filed extensive documentation in support of their fees for the district court’s review.  At the hearing, Ilkka testified that

there’s nothing that I can find from the file and from the invoices that would indicate that these fees are improper.  * * *  I can find nothing to indicate that the fees should not be approved.


Julie Joseph, however, filed a lengthy statement of her objections to the fees at the hearing, and the district court gave appellants time to respond to those objections before it rendered its decision. 

            That decision reduced the $11,674.96 claimed to $5,988.36.  Specifically, the district court reduced the Eckberg firm’s $7,005.40 fee by $3,585.73, awarding it $3,419.67, and Shoeberg’s $4,669.56 fee by $2,100.87, awarding him $2,568.69.  But the district court provided no explanation of these specific amounts and no reason for the reduction, other than observing that both Julie Joseph and appellants had contributed to the extensive delays in settling the estate.  Appellants contend that the reduction in fees was an abuse of discretion.[2]



            “On review, this court will not reverse a trial court’s award or denial of attorney fees absent an abuse of discretion.”  Becker v. Alloy Hardfacing & Eng’g Co., 401 N.W.2d 655, 661 (Minn. 1987) (citation omitted).  The reasonableness of attorney fees is a question of fact.  Amerman v. Lakeland Dev. Corp., 295 Minn. 536, 537, 203 N.W.2d 400, 400-01 (1973).  Where the record is not clear and the facts are in dispute, findings of fact should be made.  Roberson v. Roberson, 296 Minn. 476, 478, 206 N.W.2d 347, 348 (1973).  See also Bettes v. Fuel-Scott, 415 N.W.2d 409, 412 (Minn. App. 1987) (reversing and remanding because “[t]he lack of findings clearly inhibits this court’s ability to review the [district] court’s actions”). 

            The order reducing the fees recited the factors for evaluating the reasonableness of attorney fees set out in Minn. Stat. § 525.515 (2000):  time and labor required; experience and knowledge of the attorney(s); complexity and novelty of the problems; extent of the responsibilities assumed and results attained; and sufficiency of the assets.  But the order said nothing about how these factors translated into the specific fees awarded appellants.  Consequently, it is impossible for us to discern the district court’s rationale for reducing appellants’ fees.  And absent any explanation for the reduction in fees, we cannot determine whether that reduction constituted an abuse of discretion.  We therefore reverse and remand for appropriate findings, noting that the district court has discretion to hold a hearing on the matter or to have the parties submit additional documentation.

            Reversed and remanded.

* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] Julie Joseph, acting pro se as an interested adverse party, filed a brief for this appeal.  In its order of October 14, 2001, this court granted appellants’ motion to strike her brief as raising issues not properly before the court.

[2] Appellants also contend that the district court erred by not giving them adequate notice that the amount of the fees was at issue and by failing to hold a hearing.  We see no merit in these arguments: the district court provided appellants with time to respond to the objections to their fees, and a district court is not required to hold a hearing to address objections to attorney fees.