Money Matters - Simplified

Lawyers relinquish $85mn in WTC health case

Rescue workers at the debris of The World Trade Center after the Sept. 12, 2001 attack.

Attorneys at Worby Groner Edelman & Napoli Bern, the firm representing thousands of ground zero workers suing over their exposure to World Trade Center dust, volunteered to lower legal fees and pass on more money on to the ill workers.

In a missive sent to U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who is overseeing the case, the lawyers said that they were willing to cap their fees at 20 percent, or $115 million, of the $657 million settlement.

Not by choice
As per the initial agreement, these lawyers were to pocket a third, or 33 percent, of the settlement amount.

Hellerstein had rejected the resolution, partly due to the enormous amount of money making way into the hands of the lawyers.

"Every plaintiff here is burdened by a lawyer's fee that is hard to gauge and will take a large bite out of every [settlement]," noted the judge.

"I will not preside over a settlement that is based on fear or ignorance," he added.

"Our fees will be reduced under this court's insistence that it would limit those fees to an even greater degree than we have voluntarily agreed to do," the epistle sent to the judge states.

"The judge's statements and actions, together with his refusal to even consider other viewpoints, have made it necessary to appeal his rulings," said Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo.

"We have ...been influenced by the truly disheartening pressures visited upon us by the media and our own clients, both of whom seem to believe that we should have simply donated our time for these past seven years," state the attorneys in the communiqué.

In absolute terms, the legal payout reduces by close to $85 million. This amount would now be divided among up to 10,000 workers who have contracted illnesses like asthma to cancer due to ash and dust from the World Trade Center.

Meddling with private settlement
Lawyers who had chalked out the arrangement in April accused Hellerstein of transgressing his legal bounds and meddling with a "private settlement."

"The judge's statements and actions, together with his refusal to even consider other viewpoints, have made it necessary to appeal his rulings," said Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo.

But not everybody is disgruntled. One section that has given positive reaction to the letter is the ailing workers who will benefit from the money that the lawyers have relinquished.

"There is only one pie, and everyone is looking for a piece of it," said Ernie Vallebuona, a retired cop and a cancer patient.

"The judge has asked them to find ways to get more to the people who were sick. If that does this, then it is a good move," opined Vallebuona.