The New York Daily News EDITORIAL - July 27, 2008
Isn't it nice when a judge strikes a blow for justice? Congratulations go to Judge Alvin Hellerstein of Manhattan Federal Court, who is shielding 9/11 victims' families from lawyers with dollar signs in their eyes. Bonus: Hellerstein's act could likewise shield thousands of sick rescue and recovery workers now seeking fair compensation for their suffering. The judge, who is overseeing all the 9/11-related litigation, rejected a settlement for the families of four Pentagon victims who chose to sue the airlines rather than join the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
While he had previously approved payments to the plaintiffs of $5.5 million, $7 million and two for $8 million, he stopped the clock when told the Maryland law firm of Azrael, Gann & Franz was going to collect 25%, or $7.125 million. While a 25% fee for legal work is typical, the judge ruled that this is "not an ordinary case." The obvious obviously needed to be stated. Hellerstein believes that 15% is enough and should be the limit in any 9/11 case. Repeat: Any 9/11 case. Regarding the Maryland firm, the judge wrote: "Azrael's entire strategy seems to have been to coast on the work of others, and to wait for last position before entering into any meaningful settlement discussions with respect to his clients."
And he hammered on: "Azrael's strategy made little contribution to the progress of the cases before me, or to the settlements that largely have resolved this litigation; indeed, his strategy is now an affront to the hard work that others contributed in the belief that they would not be prejudiced in comparison to later settlers." By law, to ensure consistent treatment of all parties, every 9/11 case will be handled by a single court, Manhattan Federal. And Hellerstein will preside. His ruling should be a caution to the attorneys heading up the case on behalf of the WTC sick. The lawyers have been dreaming of reaping as much as 40% of the $1 billion pie Congress set aside for claims. If a $7.125 million payday is thought out of bounds, a $400 million jackpot should have no chance. None of this is anti-attorneys. It is simply pro-plaintiffs - plaintiffs who were victimized in the worst terror attack on the United States.