Posted Sunday, September 10, 2000

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I got the legal fees up . . .We did great, we did great we just got another, we just got some more money. -- Holocaust attorney Ed Fagan, not realising he was on tape

abcNEWS reports on the great Holocaust Industry shakedown and the shysters running it for money


New York, September 8, 2000

A Case of Self-Promotion?

Prominent Holocaust Claims Lawyer Accused of Neglecting Clients

Ed FaganLawyer Ed Fagan recruited as clients some 82,000 Holocaust victims or family members, to help them press compensation claims for Jewish money hidden by Swiss banks and slave labor work for German companies. (


By Brian Ross

Sept. 8 -- A lawyer who prominently recruited thousands of Holocaust survivors or their families in compensation claims against German companies and Swiss banks now is being accused of neglecting some of his clients, ABCNEWS' 20/20 reports tonight. His name is Ed Fagan, and in the past few years, he has traveled the world recruiting as clients some 82,000 Holocaust survivors who were horribly abused, forced into slave labor or who lost their family property and bank accounts. Dozens of lawyers are involved but Fagan has made himself the public face of the so-called Holocaust lawsuits brought against Swiss banks and German companies. He's been widely quoted in hundreds of articles and featured on television around the world. Yet even as Fagan was signing the final documents in Berlin in a settlement that would give $5 billion to slave labor victims, a joint investigation by 20/20 and The New York Times found serious questions being raised about this so-called savior, now accused of ignoring and neglecting some of the very clients he had promised to help.

Answering Machine Messages

Out of the public eye, says Jane Warshaw, who worked for Fagan and a former partner as a paralegal for several months last year, the lawyers paid little attention to their clients' pleas. A tape of telephone messages left on the answering machine at Fagan's law office was provided to 20/20 and the New York Times. "And if they wrote in, it didn't help," she says. "There was unopened mail sitting on top of the desk on the chairs, everywhere." She says she felt compelled to blow the whistle on Fagan and his partner in this letter to the federal judge overseeing the Swiss bank case. Fagan, who admits he hired almost no office help, says he was too busy traveling and working on the cases to answer all the questions from his thousands of clients. But legal experts say that is no excuse.

Legal Ethics

"It does not pass legal ethics for the lawyer to ignore questions simply because there are so many clients," says New York University law professor Stephen Gillers. 20/20 played some of the tape for Gillers, a leading authority on legal ethics, who says Fagan should have made sure someone responded to his clients. Gillers says Fagan had a special responsibility given what the Holocaust clients had been through. "Elderly people who have been through hell and back, that population has to be recognized as deserving special care and solicitude," he said. "A lawyer who receives that call has to stop and say to himself, my God, I'm doing something wrong here if I have even one of those calls. Let alone three or four or five," said Gillers. But it turns out that even after Fagan learned of the messages recorded by his former paralegal he had never bothered to listen to all of them until 20/20 played him the tape. "That's the first I heard that tape," said Fagan. "Four years of our lives we spent on these cases, is it perfect? No. Should we give the people phone calls? Yes," he said.

A Missed Deadline

Fagan's behavior may not affect the claims of most of his clients, but it was a serious problem for one family. With their daughter Bella, Sam and Lola Rothkopf went to Fagan because they believed their family had lost thousands in a Swiss bank account when the family fled the Nazis. Fagan seemed perfect. "There was no other name that was associated with this issue that regularly was there other than Ed Fagan," said Bella Ross. But the Rothkopfs say once they signed up with Fagan and made the decision to relive so many painful memories, turning over family records to try to prove their connection to the missing bank account, they never heard from him or saw their records again. They've now learned Fagan missed the deadline for submitting documents to support the claim, never filed the documents to back up their claim, which the Swiss Bank Commission has denied, awarding the disputed account to someone else. "And he knew what we went through and everything and he has, this what he did is terrible. A terrible thing," said Lola Rothkopf. Earlier this year, the Rothkopfs took their complaint about Fagan's failure to return their calls to the New York State Bar Association, which declined to take any action against him. Ed Fagan responds, "Are there people out there that say . . . that the manner in which the cases were handled from an administrative standpoint were not good? Were inappropriate? Yes." But, he adds, "I handled my obligations."

Others Complain

But the Rothkopfs are not alone in feeling abandoned by Fagan. ABCNEWS found a number of Holocaust survivors and family members who signed up with Fagan and now claim he virtually ignored them when they simply tried to find out the status of their claims or if their claims were even part of the lawsuit. "And I was persistent. I called, I sent faxes, e-mail, everything," says Dr. Reuven Ofir. "I still don't know, is he legitimate? Is he going to do anything? Or is he not going to do anything," asks Minnie Kramer. Professor Gillers says, based on what 20/20 told him it had found, it's a serious problem. "This is a law office out of control, in my view. This is client abuse, in my view, and it should not be allowed to continue," he says.

Abandoned, Neglected Clients

But it's not the first time Fagan has been accused of neglecting his clients. Just five years ago, he was deeply in debt, placing ads in the New York yellow pages seeking clients for personal injury lawsuits. A search of courthouse records and interviews by Barry Meier of The New York Times found five different cases in which Fagan appeared to have abandoned or neglected existing clients as he went after the higher profile, higher-fee Holocaust clients. One of them left behind, a truck driver seriously injured in an accident in 1992. "He was unaware until I told him a few weeks ago that his $35 million lawsuit in federal court had been thrown out. He said that he had been trying to call Mr. Fagan for two and a half years and had not received a phone call back from him," said Meier. Fagan disputes that. But at the same time Fagan was living the good life, traveling Europe, preparing to ask for millions of dollars in fees for handling the Holocaust cases. "I know for a fact that the majority of these cases wouldn't have happened without me. That's not, that's not from bravado, it's just a fact," said Fagan.

'We Worked Around Him'

But other lawyers in the case say that is simply untrue. "We essentially worked around him," says New York University law professor Burt Neuborne. "I mean, he was, he was there, but, but he played, if I tell you zero, I mean zero role in developing the legal theory, in presenting the legal theory, and in participating as a lawyer," says Neuborne. Neuborne, a leading human rights lawyer who was originally brought into the case by Fagan, says it's time to set the record straight. "This is the first time, I am speaking publicly about this. But now that the cases are over, I think it is appropriate to, to tell the truth about him. One hundred percent of his activity in this case, including the press activity, it was designed to get his name there so other people would sign up with him, so he could get more and more and more and more people in the fold and then show up in court and say 'I am to the top lawyer cause I have got the most clients,'" says Neuborne. "He, he certainly doesn't know my ability as far as what I can do as a lawyer," counters Fagan.

Large Number of Clients

"What did he attack, the number of clients? There wouldn't be cases. The cases wouldn't have been as powerful if we didn't have 82,000 clients," says Fagan. Fagan now says he's improved communications with his clients and provided us with a list of clients, rabbis and family friends who vouched for him. "Because he's a good Jew and he's a compassionate person," says Alice Fisher of New York City. Fisher is one of Fagan's most prominent clients, often appearing in public with him. She says she trusts Fagan and he always returns her phone calls. " I think he is a very good, a very effective lawyer. I don't know why you have to ask this," says Fisher. "If he does not have a staff and so many clients he cannot call back everybody."

Final Outrage

For many, the final outrage from Fagan came this summer, in Berlin, when he held up the final formal signing of the German slave labor settlement, in part because of a dispute over how many millions would be given to the lawyers. With several hundred people and top German and American officials waiting in the next room, Fagan, still wearing a 20/20 microphone, could be heard haggling over the fees, and then boasting of his success to first one lawyer. "I got the legal fees up," he said. And then to another lawyer, he said, "We did great, we did great we just got another, we just got some more money." "It didn't surprise me at the last minute that the only lawyer, the only lawyer that thought he could hold this deal up would be Ed Fagan. Because that's the barometer of how much you care about yourself, and how much you care about those victims," says Neuborne. "How could somebody with such high ideals step on them and step on the people involved. Just to champion himself, for a paycheck? There are lots of other ways to make money, not to take advantage of people who suffered," says Bella Ross.

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Lawyer in Holocaust Case Faces Litany of Complaints
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