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Holocaust lawyers take their cut

Holocaust lawyer Ed Fagan wants more than $250,000 Keystone

Four years after a SFr1.87 billion ($1.25 billion) settlement between Swiss banks, Holocaust survivors and their heirs, the legal bills are finally being settled.

This content was published on September 24, 2002 - 19:26

The United States district judge, Edward Korman, has approved the payouts in New York.

Most of the US lawyers acted for nothing, have given away their legal fees or accepted a fraction of what is normal in such lawsuits.

Three individuals are contesting the recommendations made by Burt Neuborne, the lead lawyer in the settlement case.

Human rights

Partners Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann and Bernstein were awarded the biggest sum of $1.6 million but have agreed to donate their fees to charity.

The law firm is giving $1.5 million to Columbia Law School to endow a professorship in human rights law in honour of persons who failed to survive the Holocaust.

The remaining $100,000 was paid to a Holocaust victim, who greatly assisted the class action lawsuit and whose bank records have been destroyed.

The firm of Burger and Montague in Philadelphia is scheduled to receive $1.1 million. The lawyer who represented Gypsy plaintiffs, Barry Fisher, is set to receive $300,000.

No fee

Neuborne and his two colleagues, Michael Hausfeld and Mel Weiss, who did the bulk of the work on the case, said from the outset that they would not seek fees.

Neuborne added that legal fees - representing less than 0.5 per cent of the total settlement - are among the lowest ever paid out for this type of lawsuit.

"These are extraordinarily low awards," he told swissinfo. "They are probably the lowest recorded awards for cases of this magnitude in the history of the court here in New York."

The average fee in such cases is normally 15-20 per cent.

Contested fees

Three lawyers who represented Holocaust victims are contesting the sums they're being offered.

Robert Swift is said to want more than the recommended $1.125 million, while Ed Fagan is said to be unhappy with the $250,000 he is due to receive.

Swift, Fagan and a third lawyer, William Marks, are claiming up to $6 million in total. They are expected to meet Korman next month to discuss the settlement.

"Even what they're asking for is low if measured against an ordinary commercial case," said Neuborne. "But I am insisting that the level of fee in this case should be treated as though it's a civil rights case."

"What I have tried to do in each of these cases is evaluate the work of each lawyer, to assess how much time they spent on the case and to assess how valuable their work was to the class and to give them fee based upon that assessment."

Neuborne said he was confident that his recommendations would ultimately be accepted.

Former security guard

Meanwhile, the former Swiss security guard, Christoph Meili, who prevented the destruction of pre-Second World War archive material when he was working at UBS, has already received $600,000.

In total, he is expected to receive $1 million, which is part of an agreement to withdraw a lawsuit against the bank.

Meili left Switzerland with his family for the United States in 1997 after losing his job and allegedly receiving death threats.

In August 1998, Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse and Jewish groups agreed the $1.25 billion settlement over Holocaust-era assets.

Some $800 million is being used to compensate the holders of dormant bank accounts and their heirs, with the rest intended for other victims of the Nazis such as forced labourers and repatriated refugees.

swissinfo, Vincent Landon

Holocaust Ed Fagan

Swiss banks and Jewish plaintiff groups reached an agreement over Holocaust-era assets in 1998.
The settlement fund is worth $1.25 billion.

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