The battle over lawyers' fees in the $1.25 billion Swiss bank settlement with Holocaust survivors and their heirs has taken yet another turn: a Florida lawyer is petitioning the court for $3.6 million, a figure a fellow lawyer in the case calls "shocking."
The lawyer requesting the money, Samuel Dubbin of Coral Gables, pointed out in his request that he had successfully opposed the settlement because it failed to include claims against Swiss insurance companies. He said the court agreed with his arguments and that insurance claims of up to $100 million were added to the settlement.
"The fee request amounts, conservatively, [from] 1.8 percent to 2.8 percent," Dubbin said in his application. "The request is far below the ranges considered reasonable for results of such magnitude in much less compelling [cases]."
But Robert Swift of Philadelphia, who had been co-chair of the plaintiffs' executive committee, said in papers filed in opposition to the request that Dubbin's firm had "performed no services that benefited the settlement class in any way." In fact, Swift said, that by contesting the settlement, Dubbin's firm had "betrayed those aged Holocaust survivors who could have received the money sooner."
In an interview Tuesday, Swift pointed out that he and other lawyers (not Dubbin) had actually negotiated the $100 settlement with Swiss insurance companies. And that only 764 insurance claims have been filed to date, suggesting that the "true value [to the survivors] will be minor."
But Dubbin said the judge in the case, Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Edward Korman, was the one who valued the insurance settlement at $100 million.
"The value of the attorney fee is based on the potential payout, not the claims ultimately filed," he argued.
Swift replied: "We intentionally negotiated a large cap to make sure it would survive any objection. What if we had negotiated a cap of $1 billion? Would he have been entitled to a percentage of that?"
Korman has yet to rule on lawyers' fees. The lead settlement counsel, Burt Neuborne, has recommended $5.6 million in legal fees for the attorneys involved in the case, less than one-half of 1 percent of the settlement. He recommended that Korman deny Dubbin's request.
Swift said he found "even more outrageous" another claim Dubbin submitted to the court seeking $2.3 million for one of his clients, Dr. Thomas Weiss, an ophthalmologist. Swift said Dubbin claimed that Weiss is entitled to that money because of all the hours he spent in preparation of his case. And instead of the $667 an hour he gets in his practice, Weiss was willing to reduce his fee to $350 an hour, Swift said.
Dubbin said there is precedent for such remuneration and that Weiss had "spent months digging up information about the culpability of the Swiss insurance companies" in an effort to benefit not only himself but also the entire class of those with similar claims. He noted that a professor of ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, Geoffrey Hazard, had submitted an affidavit saying such payment to Weiss is appropriate and that Neuborne himself said in May 2001 that Weiss' work was a valuable contribution to the case.
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