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Friday, September 19, 2008

Federal Judge Weinstein Chops 2 Million off Legal Fees

Judge Cuts NY Name Partner's Fees by More Than $2 Million in Award to Ferry Victim
The New York Law Journal by Mark Fass - September 18, 2008

Eastern District Judge Jack B. Weinstein yesterday awarded $18.3 million to James McMillan, the Fulton Fish Market worker who was left paralyzed below the shoulders after the 2003 Staten Island Ferry disaster. The award represents a $4.6 million reduction from the $22.9 million recommended by an advisory jury eight days ago. The judge also cut the fees Mr. McMillan must pay his attorneys to 20 percent of the award from one-third, a reduction to $3.6 million from about $6 million. At a hearing yesterday, neither side contested the judge's decision in McMillan v. City of New York, 03-cv-6049, regarding Mr. McMillan's award - indeed, the parties had already tentatively agreed to settle the case for just $32 less than Judge Weinstein's total. Mr. McMillan's attorney, Evan Torgan, and Ben Rabinowitz, who represented Mr. Torgan on the fee issue, did however engage in an extended, philosophical debate with the court over the efficacy of reducing a contracted-for contingency fee. Without such fees, Mr. Rabinowitz argued, plaintiffs "from lower socio-economic strata would never have the opportunity to be represented by someone like Mr. Torgan." While attorneys in the many Staten Island Ferry cases that have settled received their agreed-upon fees, Mr. Torgan is being "punished" for not settling years ago when New York City offered $10 million, Mr. Rabinowitz added. That deal, he noted, would have netted Mr. Torgan a comparable fee for vastly less work, while reducing Mr. McMillan's award by nearly $8 million.

In a debate that vacillated between light hearted and heated, Judge Weinstein vehemently disputed Mr. Rabinowitz's characterization of his decision to cut the fee. "I find the word 'punished,' if not objectionable, then inapt, when we're dealing with a fee of $3.5 million," the judge responded. Rather, Judge Weinstein stated that the case's "special circumstances," such as Mr. McMillan's health and the case's strong likelihood of a substantial award, merited the 40 percent reduction. Mr. McMillan was in a hospital, recently paralyzed and in "extreme pain" and of "limited capacity" when he signed the retainer. "[He] wasn't in the position to negotiate," Judge Weinstein said. "The original agreement was not an arm's length agreement." The judge also emphasized the lack of risk taken on by Mr. Torgan and his firm, Torgan & Cooper. There was "never an issue of liability, never an issue of negligence," Judge Weinstein said. Once the city's Jones Act claim was rejected, there was also no limit on liability.

In one of the hearing's lighter moments, Judge Weinstein playfully discounted Mr. Rabinowitz's suggestion that his decision could have a "chilling effect" on the remaining ferry-related cases pending before Judge Edward R. Korman, "Judge Korman has a more romantic view of life than I do," Judge Weinstein said, suggesting that such a perspective should augur well for the plaintiffs' attorneys. "I'm from the streets of New York, the docks of New York." Numerous plaintiffs' attorneys, both those with ferry cases pending and those without, expressed dismay with the ruling. Matthew Gaier of Kramer, Dillof, Livingston & Moore, a medical malpractice specialist who is not involved in the present case, said he had never seen such a decision in New York state court or in a case involving a competent adult. "It's hard to guess what lawyers are going to do, but it will certainly be talked about," said Mr. Gaier, a Law Journal columnist. "The judge has injected himself into the attorney-client relationship." Lawyers for the city declined to discuss the fees issue. Judge Weinstein stayed the judgment for 20 days to allow the parties to seek relief from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.


Anonymous said...

Three cheers for Judge Weinstein !! It's encouraging to have a federal judge stand up to fellow lawyers who are greedy and who are partly responsible for the awful reputation of our 'officers of the courts."

Anonymous said...

What happened here? I guess that Weinstein didn't get his cut.

Anonymous said...

Have some respect for Federal Judge Weinstein. He's actually a decent guy. Besides the fact that he's 135 years old and doesn't give a hoot what anyone thinks, he's one of the good guys, and would like to be remembered as someone who helped raise the opinion of attorneys and the legal profession from the depths of hell where it is now.

Anonymous said...

Rockland County Court Employee : It is time for the people of Rockland County to stand up and fight for themselves and their neighbors. I witness the corruption every day. Judge Linda Christopher is one of the worst criminals in the New City Sewer of corruption,and believe me,she has stiff competition.
It is a MASONIC power house of greed and CORRUPTION. They make deals with each other at the expense of the average Joe,who they despise.They are constantly working against their own clients in order to pay back a fellow crook who they owe a favor to.
I will begin giving out info on these criminals and I urge anyone who has info to add to please come forward now.

The time is now !! We must turn up the fire on them and root them out like the RODENTS they are.


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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:

               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 1
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 2