Posted Sunday, December 5, 1999

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London, December 1, 1999

More Outrage

Holocaust Survivors Protest over Legal Fee

By James Bone

New York -- A HUGE bill submitted by lawyers in the class-action suit brought by victims of Nazism against Swiss banks has raised the hackles of Holocaust victims, who accuse the attorneys of cashing in on their grief. While many of America's top legal talents are working pro bono on the landmark case, a group of nine lawyers is asking the judge to approve fees of $13.5 million (£8.5 million) for its work in negotiating last year's $1.25 billion settlement with the Swiss banks.

To the disgust of Holocaust survivors, most of the lawyers have requested that their time-charts be kept secret. One lawyer who did submit records asked to be paid $2,369 for 8.6 hours' work in reading Tom Bower's book Nazi Gold - and still misspelt Mr Bower's name.

"Holocaust survivors are being exploited by a feeding frenzy of fee-grabbing lawyers," complained Elan Steinberg, of the World Jewish Congress, whose lawyers are working for free on the case. "Their application to the court looks like a script for Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

The hefty legal bill, which is expected to be followed by claims by other lawyers, dominated a public hearing of Holocaust survivors in Brooklyn federal court on Monday to discuss the settlement of the class-action suit.

"If those gold rings and gold teeth which were taken from the Jews were placed here on the table, I don't think any of the attorneys would reach for them," said Yakov Goodman, a spokesman for Jews from the former Soviet republic of Belarus. "Maybe I'm naive, but that's what these attorneys are reaching for now."


May 1944 new camp arrivals at Auschwitz. Photo on Simon Wiesenthal Center website, with caption: "As these prisoners were being processed for slave labor, many of their friends and families were being gassed and burned in the ovens in the crematoria. The smoke can be seen in the background. June 1944". As the original photo No. 165 published in Auschwitz Album 1978 (1st edition, Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, New York, 1978), shows, the smoke has been airbrushed in by the SWC. [Link]

To make matters worse, some of the lawyers are claiming what is known as a "lodestar" multiplier to increase their fees almost threefold because of the complexity of the case, boosting their fees to $700 an hour.

Steven Whinston, a Philadelphia lawyer who is seeking close to $2 million in legal fees for his work over three years, insisted that the request was "very fair". He noted that courts routinely allow lawyers in class-action suits to take up to 25 per cent of the final settlement.

"Some of the comments I heard about fees were repugnant," said Robert Swift, another of the lawyers. "We worked extremely hard at great risk to accomplish a world-class result."

More than 440,000 people have applied to be included in the massive settlement reached by the Swiss banks that profited from looted Jewish property and abandoned bank accounts during and after the Second World War.

Some claimants have expressed unhappiness, however, that the beneficiaries will include a wide range of victims of Nazism, with Jewish charities and religious institutions among those seeking money. If divided evenly, the settlement would be about $2,000 for each claimant.

Our opinion
  WE are glad, indeed almost surprised, to hear that there are in 1999 more than 440,000 active and litigious survivors of the Holocaust some fifty-four years after it ended. Would a neutral actuary please extrapolate objectively backwards from this figure and estimate for us the original number of survivors that that indicates for May 1945? We will post the estimates we receive.

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