WTC Lawyers Slash Cut of Settlement

In letter to judge, pledge to forgo $85 million

By Jennifer Millman
|  Saturday, May 29, 2010  |  Updated 11:05 AM EDT
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New York City firefighters exit the walkway leading down into ground zero after finishing a shift on the cleanup and recovery effort at the disaster site of the World Trade Center March 7, 2002 in New York City.

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Attorneys for thousands of sickened 9/11 workers wrote a letter to a judge saying they would cut their share of the massive settlement, which has been held up in courts over concerns litigation fees would detract from the victims' payouts.

In the letter to Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who is presiding over the case, lawyers with Worby Groner Edelman & Napoli Bern volunteered to relinquish $85 million of their anticipated $200 million payday – a third of the proposed $657 million settlement.

Hellerstein, along with thousands of the victims, excoriated the lawyers back in March after they reached a deal to net a third of the total payout. Hellerstein rejected the settlement because he believed the lawyers would get too much at the victims' expense – a move some city attorneys believed transgressed his judicial bounds.

"We have ...been influenced by the truly disheartening pressures visited upon us by the media and our own clients, both of whom seem to believe that we should have simply donated our time for these past seven years," the attorneys' letter reads, according to the Daily News.

"Our fees will be reduced under this court's insistence that it would limit those fees to an even greater degree than we have voluntarily agreed to do," the lawyers wrote.

The lawyers told the judge they are willing to cap their fees at 20 percent, leaving the rest of the money to be divided among up to 10,000 workers who have illnesses ranging from asthma to cancer.

Victims' initial responses to the letter seemed optimistic that the attorneys' effort would finally allow the settlement to move forward.

"There is only one pie, and everyone is looking for a piece of it," cancer-stricken former cop Ernie Vallebuona told the News. "The judge has asked them to find ways to get more to the people who were sick. If that does this, then it is a good move."

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