9/11 Families Press Court to Get List of Kin

Wednesday, Sep 14, 2011  |  Updated 12:26 PM EDT
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Family members line the perimeter of the 9/11 Memorial South Pool during the tenth anniversary ceremonies of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center site.

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Several Sept. 11 victims' relatives who hope to get a New York City-maintained list of next of kin for those killed in the attacks took their case before a judge Wednesday.

The family members oppose a plan to put about 9,000 unidentified pieces of victims' remains underground in the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. They want the list compiled so families can be polled about the issue.

Family members were consulted and OK'd the arrangement, city and memorial officials and some other victims' relatives have said. And releasing the list would violate families' privacy, the city has said.

The relatives also say they were never consulted about the city's plan to place the remains underground. The city and memorial foundation have said they conducted an extensive effort to include families in planning, and the plan for the remains has been known for years.

"The argument that this is known is incorrect. If it was well-known, we wouldn't be here today," the families' lawyer, Norman Siegel, said as about a half-dozen of the relatives who are suing watched from the courtroom audience, some wearing photographs and pins with their loved ones' names and images.

"And that's the underlying issue here: Who decides where the remains will go? Does the government decide, or do the families decide," or what obligations does the government have to consult them, he asked.

The lawsuit proposes releasing the list only to a retired judge, who would send out a letter on the plaintiffs' behalf. The city argued that under public-records law, the list would have to be released publicly if it were released at all, and that would invade victims' families' privacy and subject them to a deluge of unwanted solicitations and communications.

"There' a great privacy interest in names, home addresses of 9/11 victims' families," Thaddeus Hackworth, a city lawyer, told the judge. The fact that the relatives were caught up in the terror attacks "should not also mean that these individuals have given up all rights to privacy," he said.

Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Cynthia Kern didn't immediately rule or say when she would. But she asked both sides whether they might be able to work something out.

"Why would the city not want to give notice to family members about what's going to happen with the remains?" she asked.

The families want the remains places someplace accessible, and separate from the museum, Siegel has said.

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