Who gets what from the 9/11 litigation has law firms up in arms against each other. A lawsuit filed against another over the split of close to $50 million legal fees was filed on Tuesday and then quickly withdrawn in New York City, but the withdrawal was not fast enough to evade the eyes of the media.
According to the details, Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik filed a lawsuit against Worby Groner Edelman in the New York Supreme Court aiming to halt arbitration proceedings initiated by Worby Groner. Between them, the two firms had worked as co-liaison counsel for about 10,000 emergency personnel in litigation following 9/11. The arbitration papers filed on May 10 by Worby Grobner with the American Arbitration Association show close to $50 million at issue.
Following the order of U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in the 9/11 litigation issued last September, taken together, plaintiffs’ lawyers stood to earn at least $187 million from the $725 million in settlements. Defendants in the settlements had included the New York City, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and others. Though the said order is currently under appeal for deciding on amounts, the payments for the lawyers would be hefty.
The defendants in the settlement have alleged that Judge Hellerstein had erred in finding that 99.4 percent of eligible plaintiffs had opted into the settlement and accordingly fixed a bonus of $55 million to the plaintiffs. The city and the contractors hold that according to the terms of the settlement they require to pay a bonus of only $12.5 million.
On the other hand, the lawyers of the plaintiffs too, have co-appealed holding that Judge Hellerstein had ordered an amount much below what was fair. The lawyers from Napoli Bern and Worby Groner filed a brief in March holding that the judge erred in ruling that the plaintiffs’ lawyers could not collect fees on the bonus payment.
Judge Hellerstein had all through been critical of the honest fees demanded by lawyers for the plaintiffs. In March 2010, he had rejected a proposed settlement from $575 million holding that the amount of fees the plaintiffs’ lawyers stood to gain was inappropriate. Following concerns expressed by the judge, both Napoli Bern and Worby Groner agreed to reduce their fees from 33 percent to 25 percent as the city added an extra $50 million to the settlement. The lawyers for the plaintiffs also waived their rights to collect $7 million in litigation financing costs.
A document in filed in earlier cases shows that the dispute over fees between Renik and Groner resulted from a contract that the firms had signed to form a joint venture, Worby Grobner Edelman & Napoli Bern, for representing the responders in the 9/11 case.
The case is Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik, LLP v. Worby Groner Edelman, LLP, No 652045/2012.