Remember the Swiss banks’ billion dollar settlement to Holocaust survivors back in 2000? Turns out things are far from settled. New York Magazine has an excellent article detailing the battle over legal fees, currently at $4,760,000.
The short version is that Burt Neuborne, and NYU law professor, took the case pro bono for the litigation. However, after the settlement was reached the question became how to distribute more than $1 billion to hundreds of thousands of people, understandably, not a minor undertaking. According to the article, “Neuborne declared that he had worked 8,178 hours since 1999, at $700 an hour. After applying a 25 percent discount, he staked out his bottom line: $4,088,500.” When word got out and people complained, “he removed 1,600 disputed hours from his bill, but he also removed his discount, raising his fee by $671,500 in the process. The bill now comes to $4.76 million.”
And that’s just Neuborne’s side of the story, and we’re not even giong to get into how he calculated those 8,178 (or the 6,578 adjusted) hours.
The article does an excellent job covering the murkier sides of legal wrangling and deal-making. For one juicy example:
Then Judge Korman (largely following the proposal of a special master tasked with devising a plan) decided that the looted-assets survivors would get nothing at all. There were just too many of them, he reasoned, and how could anyone prove which looted assets ended up in Switzerland? Korman ruled that using their $100 million share of the settlement to help destitute survivors would be the “next best thing.” He ordered that 75 percent of the aid for Jewish survivors be spent in the former Soviet Union, where he considered the needs overwhelming; 21 percent would go to other foreign nations. Only 4 percent would be used to help survivors in the U.S. And that’s the root of the trouble.
While the whole saga is completely understandable, it is no less simultaneously disturbing on many levels, just what you’d expect when you mix the legal system with Jewish cultural politics.