NEW YORK, June 15 (Reuters) - Two New York law firms that
raked in major fees jointly representing 9/11 first responders
in lawsuits against New York City have been fighting over $50
million, a lawsuit filed and then quickly withdrawn has
Details of the legal spat emerged on Tuesday when Napoli
Bern Ripka Shkolnik filed a lawsuit in New York Supreme Court
against another firm, Worby Groner Edelman. The two firms served
as co-liaison counsel for 10,000 emergency personnel in
litigation in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center
on Sept 11, 2001.
Napoli Bern's suit was aimed at halting arbitration
proceedings initiated last month by Worby Groner.
The two firms did not return calls seeking comment, and
Napoli Bern on Wednesday filed papers to discontinue the lawsuit
Arbitration papers filed on May 10 with the American
Arbitration Association list the amount at issue as $50 million.
The new court documents do not say if the sum reflects legal
fees from the 9/11 litigation. But another document shows the
arbitration arose from a contract the firms signed in forming a
joint venture, Worby Groner Edelman & Napoli Bern, for the
purpose of representing the World Trade Center responders.
It is unclear how much Napoli Bern and Worby Groner
ultimately earned on the 9/11 litigation, given the involvement
of other firms representing individual responders. Overall,
plaintiffs' lawyers stood to earn $187.5 million from $725
million in settlements with New York City, the Port Authority of
New York and New Jersey, various contractors and other
defendants, according to an order in September by U.S. District
Judge Alvin Hellerstein.
That order is currently under appeal by both the city and
the plaintiffs to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.
Lawyers for the city contend that Hellerstein erred in
finding that 99.4 percent of eligible plaintiffs had opted into
the settlement and that the city therefore owed an additional
$55 million as a bonus to the plaintiffs. The city and its
contractors argue that the terms of the settlement require it to
pay just $12.5 million, based on a lower opt-in figure.
Meanwhile, the plaintiffs' lawyers have cross-appealed,
saying they are owed more than Hellerstein allowed. A brief
filed in March by lawyers at Napoli Bern and Worby Groner argued
that the judge erred in ruling that the plaintiffs' lawyers
could not collect fees on the bonus payment.
The fees of the plaintiffs' firms have long drawn criticism
from Hellerstein. In March 2010, he rejected an earlier proposed
$575 million settlement as inadequate after expressing concern
about the amount of fees plaintiffs' lawyers stood to receive
from the accord.
Napoli Bern and Worby Groner subsequently agreed to cut
their fees from 33 percent to 25 percent, while the city added
another $50 million to the settlement. The plaintiffs' lawyers
also waived their right to collect $7 million in litigation
The case is Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik, LLP v. Worby Groner
Edelman, LLP, No 652045/2012.
For Napoli Bern: Thomas Hyland, Wilson Elser Moskowitz
Edelman & Dicker.
For Worby Groner: Andrew Greene, Andrew Greene & Associates;
Stanley Zinner of Melville, New York.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond)
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