An Auckland solicitor who was appointed to administer a deceased estate charged $250 to read a two-line letter, a depositions hearing in the Auckland District Court heard yesterday.

Police forensic accountant Peter Preece told JPs that there were many instances of the solicitor charging out his time "far higher than I would have expected".

The 52-year-old lawyer, who has interim name suppression, is charged with criminal breach of trust, a charge which carries a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment.

He is said to have charged $184,000 to administer the $350,000 estate of Leonard Hoare, who died in 1994.

Mr Hoare bequeathed his wife a life interest in his main asset, a property in Piha, with his five sons from a previous marriage inheriting whatever was left when she died.

The Crown, represented by Mike Heron, says the fee charged by the solicitor, who was executor and sole trustee, should have been a tiny fraction of the amount charged.

But defence counsel Paul Davison, QC, says that the solicitor was forced to do extra work and spend money on legal advice because of constant challenges to his decisions by Mr Hoare's sons.

Mr Preece told the court that the lawyer told him that he consulted other lawyers because his actions were continually criticised by the sons, who threatened to sue him.

He told Mr Davison that he formed the impression that the solicitor was "creating" work that was not legitimately necessary.

The solicitor told him that initially he was advised that he could charge the estate for legal advice he received relating to allegations of negligence against him.

That advice later changed, but not before the solicitor had acted on it.

The solicitor said he accurately recorded his time, sought advice before making difficult decisions and maintained that the fees were properly chargeable.

Mr Preece, who compiled a 520-page report, which was filed in court, told the JPs that he considered a number of factors including the validity of the work done.

He said he looked at the time charged in relation to a document to see whether it looked reasonable.

Mr Davison questioned Mr Preece on an example he gave in his report of "reading a two-line letter and charging an hour's time in relation to it". At the time the solicitor charged out his time at $250 an hour.

Mr Preece said he could not remember that specific example because there appeared to be so many instances where the time charged by the solicitor was much higher than he would have expected.

That prompted Mr Davison to comment: "You have no idea what a lawyer might do in terms of considering the reply or steps to be taken in response to information conveyed in a letter, irrespective of how economically the message is expressed."

Mr Preece agreed that the time examination was subjective but said that was why he concentrated on the appropriateness of the charges to the estate rather than the actual time.

Mr Preece said that the solicitor should not have charged the estate for getting advice from other lawyers to give himself "peace of mind".

Of the $184,000, around $32,000 was paid to other lawyers and $28,000 in fees were still outstanding, leaving a total of about $123,000 received by the solicitor, which Mr Davison said equated to around $109,000 before GST.