Lawyer Defends $4.1M Fee in Holocaust Case

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Law professor Burt Neuborne says $4.1 million is fair payment for his work distributing the $1.25 billion settlement won from Swiss banks over their World War II-era dealings. Many disagree with him.

After a New York Times editorial pilloried him for billing Holocaust survivors at a rate of $700 an hour, Mr. Neuborne went public with his arguments for the multimillion-dollar fee.

The New York University professor told The New York Sun yesterday that he would not withdraw his legal bill despite the outrage it has provoked from American Holocaust survivors who say his fee request would take too much from the settlement.

With his request, which has been pending for six months, Mr. Neuborne has become a lightning rod for discontent with the settlement process, which has meant dividing the money among survivors in America and Russia.

“This is money I’ve earned,” Mr. Neuborne said. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to be railroaded into giving it up because of a group trying to stampede the courts and ignore the law.”

Just how much Mr. Neuborne receives for his seven years of work since the settlement is up to a magistrate-judge in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, James Orenstein, who is still hearing the case. Critics of the fee request say Mr. Neuborne gave the impression that he was doing the work pro bono and has inflated the number of hours he worked.

Mr. Neuborne suggests that the dispute over his fee has called into question a legal point he thought was long ago settled: that courts award lawyers payment based on the representation they provide, regardless of the moral strength of the plaintiff’s claims.

The Times editorial last Thursday labels Mr. Neuborne’s corporate rates unseemly. “Holocaust victims are not Exxon Mobil,” the editorial said.

Mr. Neuborne responded yesterday: “The notion that this group of victims is singled out to get their work done for free and all other victims are supposed to pay for what they get – I wonder where the New York Times gets its theory there.”

Mr. Neuborne earlier offered an answer. In a posting on the Wall Street Journal’s law blog, Mr. Neuborne said the Times’s editorial follows the logic of a particularly shameful legal precedent.

“Maybe the Times knows the true value of my services better than the market, but I doubt it,” he wrote Friday. “During the middle ages the Catholic Church insisted that Jewish merchants charge a ‘just price’ instead of market value. The Times has gone into the same business.”

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