New York Post: Law firm ‘abandons’ 9/11 victims
By Susan Edelman - New York Post - March 11th, 2012
The law firm that reaped more than $200 million in fees and expenses in the city’s court settlement with 10,000 Ground Zero workers now says it won’t represent those filing compensation claims under the federal Zadroga Act because rules forbid them to further bill the same clients, The Post has learned.
“By preventing us to be paid for our overhead and services, it essentially precludes us from representing the interests of our litigation clients” in the new Victim Compensation Fund, says a letter from Worby Groner Edelman & Napoli Bern.
John Feal, an advocate for 9/11 responders, called it “disturbing and appalling” that the firm had repeatedly led clients to believe it would represent them.
“This firm made over $200 million from the mass tort — you would think there would be a moral obligation to represent those sick and dying under Zadroga pro bono,” he said.
Nothing in the Zadroga law prevents the firm from keeping the clients. But lawyers who already collected a 25 percent fee in the $680 million city settlement cannot charge the same clients any more. Other lawyers can charge a 10 percent fee.
In its letter signed by William Groner, Napoli Bern recommends the clients hire law partners Noah Kushlefsky and Michael Barasch -- and attaches their retainer.
Kushlefsky represented 450 families of those killed on 9/11 in claims with the first Victim Compensation Fund, and Barasch more than 1,000 Ground Zero workers, including the late NYPD detective James Zadroga.
Napoli Bern is barred from collecting any referral fee, kickback,or quid pro quo for transferring the cases -- only "minimal administrative costs."
The firm agreed to charge eight cents a page to transfer records electronically -- which could total up to several hundred dollars a case, Barasch said. That expense will come out of its 10 percent fee, not billed to clients, he said.
Napoli Bern advertised heavily after passage of the Zadroga Act in January 2011 to recruit new clients, and can collect a 10 percent fee in those cases.
Groner and Paul Napoli, a partner in the firm, did not respond to messages seeking comment.