March 20, 2018

Sheldon Silver-linked law firm has hand in asbestos funds

Weitz & Luxenberg, the law firm accused of exploiting its connection to Sheldon Silver in New York City’s asbestos court, has come under fire in another lucrative arena — multibillion-dollar bankruptcy trusts.

The East Village firm, which gained more than 100 mesothelioma clients in an alleged kickback scheme by the disgraced assemblyman, sits on 15 advisory committees for trusts set up by bankrupt companies to compensate victims — including Weitz’s own clients.

The loose system fosters a “fox guarding the hen house” culture, says a article published last month by Measley’s Asbestos Bankruptcy Report.

Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver

The 15 trusts guided by Weitz have paid out $12.2 billion between 2006 and 2013. Other trusts, which may also pay Weitz clients, have doled out $51.6 billion, the report says. Lawyers typically get at least 25 percent of the payments.

It’s unknown how many Weitz clients got payments — or whether any were funneled through Silver.

Perry Weitz, a partner in the firm, helped set up trusts for major companies such as Owens Corning, USG, and Kaiser Aluminum, his Web site boasts.

Trusts for asbestos-injured workers — who can file claims and also take active companies to court — still hold about $30 billion.

The system is rife with double-dipping abuse. Lawyers file trust claims blaming a client’s asbestos illness on bankrupt companies, but often hide those claims in lawsuits blaming active companies for the same illness.

For instance, Weitz & Luxenberg won a $25 million verdict against DaimlerChrysler in 2006 in a special Manhattan asbestos court where the firm files 50 to 70 percent of the cases.

At trial, Weitz shot down defense arguments that bankrupt Johns Manville, which made insulation and roofing, shared some blame for the worker’s exposure. “How should they be responsible?” the firm asked.

But a year after the trial, Weitz filed trust claims for the same client seeking payments from Johns Manville.

A Weitz spokesman said the firm had no comment.

In 2011, Weitz asked Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Sherry Klein Heitler to drop a requirement that plaintiffs disclose before trial any trust claims they had filed or intended to file.

Heitler, who was replaced as chief asbestos judge last week, denied the motion, but tweaked the rule, saying lawyers did not have to reveal trust claims “they may or may not anticipate filing.”

Her wording left wiggle room for potential fraud, Cardozo Law School professor Lester Brickman told The Post. Brickman, a leading expert on asbestos litigation, testified before Congress lastmonth in favor of a bill to curb the double dealing.

After Silver’s indictment last month, Weitz & Luxenberg claimed it was “shocked” that the former Assembly speaker had steered $500,000 in state grants to Columbia-Presbyterian mesothelioma researcher Dr. Robert Taub, who in turn referred the 100-plus patients.

See the article here – 

Sheldon Silver-linked law firm has hand in asbestos funds

Silver’s law firm rakes in cash as asbestos court fast-tracks claims

Sheldon Silver has perverted the courts as well as the Capitol.

His law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, gets its asbestos cases — and paydays — moved more quickly than those of other attorneys, and reaps a fortune from favorable rulings by friendly judges, charge lawyers and tort-reform advocates.

Silver’s East Village firm handles more than half the cases in a special section of Manhattan Supreme Court called NYCAL (New York City Asbestos Litigation). So dominant is the firm, the court’s Web site refers to cases as “Weitz” or “non-Weitz.”

The chief asbestos judge, Sherry Klein Heitler — also Manhattan’s chief civil judge — has handled dozens of Weitz & Luxenberg cases.

“They’ve taken over a section of the courthouse, and the people in charge of the courthouse run it for them,” said a disgusted lawyer who files personal-injury cases in Manhattan. “It pours money into the firm.”

The firm told investigators it hired Silver, who has no experience in asbestos cases, in 2002, because it hoped to “increase the firm’s prestige and perceived power,” according to last week’s federal indictment charging Silver raked in about $4 million in bribes and kickbacks.

That perceived power has paid off, critics say.

Last year, at Weitz & Luxenberg’s request, Heitler reversed a 20-year rule barring punitive damages in asbestos cases, paving the way for much bigger jury awards and putting pressure on defendants to settle.

Another judge, Joan Madden, consolidated unrelated asbestos cases. Joining up to seven plaintiffs has resulted in huge increases in NYCAL jury verdicts — from an average of $7 million to $24 million per plaintiff between 2010 and 2014, data collected by Bates White Economic Consulting show.

Last year, Weitz & Luxenberg won a record $190 million in a consolidated trial for five mesothelioma victims who worked in different jobs for different employers.

Of 15 mesothelioma verdicts in the last four years, Silver’s firm won $273.5 million of $313.5 million awarded by NYCAL juries. Law firms usually take a third.

The average award for a NYCAL asbestos case — nearly $16 million per plaintiff between 2010 and 2014 — is two to three times larger than those in other courts nationwide, Bates White reported last month at an asbestos law conference in New York.

Conference speakers included Heitler, Madden and Perry Weitz, Silver’s law partner and a founder of Weitz & Luxenberg.

Last month, the American Tort Reform Association branded NYCAL the nation’s top “judicial hellhole,” saying it’s rife with plaintiff attorneys “brazenly favored by the judges.”

The group largely blames Silver, who not only has killed any tort reform, such as efforts to limit claims and cap damages, in Albany, but wields enormous power over the judiciary.

“Imagine you’re a judge and you know the person in front of you litigating in asbestos court is also responsible in some way for your career,” said Tom Stebbins, a spokesman for the New York Lawsuit Reform Alliance, which also faults Silver.

As Assembly speaker since 1994, Silver names one of 13 members to a state judicial screening committee. The panel recommends candidates for the governor’s appointment to the Court of Claims and Appellate Division and other judge vacancies.

In 2008, Silver named his law partner and another Weitz & Luxenberg founder, Arthur Luxenberg, to the committee, ignoring the blatant conflict of interest.

Silver also plays a key role, along with Gov. Cuomo and the state Senate majority leader, in negotiating the judiciary’s budget. In 2011, Silver’s appointee to a seven-member state commission cast the deciding vote to give all state judges a 27 percent pay hike.

As one of the state’s most powerful Democrats, Silver also strongly influences his party’s nomination of candidates for judgeships in Manhattan and elsewhere. Heitler and Madden are both Democrats, and both first ran for the bench during Silver’s tenure as speaker.

“He has a hand in judicial appointments, and judges know not to bite the hand that feeds them,” said Mark Behrens, a DC attorney who advocates for asbestos-litigation reform for defendants.

To top all that, Silver and New York’s Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman are boyhood chums from the Lower East Side.

Lippman, who has been the chief administrative judge for all New York state courts since 2009, can assign judges to top administrative positions and plum posts.

Heitler was promoted to Manhattan’s chief administrative judge in 2009, a post she holds in addition to running asbestos court.

Sources say Weitz & Luxenberg gets the “red-carpet treatment” in Manhattan, including “more experienced and better judges” in the asbestos court.

One lawyer said he recently showed up to start a trial.

“In walked the Weitz & Luxenberg lawyers,” he said. The entire pool of 150 potential jurors was herded into their courtrooms.

“A jury clerk told us, ‘The asbestos cases are taking priority. You have to wait,’ ” the lawyer recalled, griping that his trial was delayed four days until another batch of jurors became available.

“All the other lawyers — and their clients — are getting screwed,” he said.

State courts spokesman David Bookstaver said Friday that he could not reach anyone to explain the alleged jury hogging.

Weitz & Luxenberg filed 53 percent of the NYCAL mesothelioma cases and 74 percent of the lung-cancer cases from 2011 to 2013, Bates White found.

Besides the landmark $190 million award, the firm last June won $25 million for two workers exposed to asbestos insulation, and $20 million for the family of a former ship fitter who died.

The indictment says Silver pocketed $5.3 million from Weitz & Luxenberg without ever doing legal work — as he was paid a yearly salary of $120,000 (for a total $1.4 million since 2002) and $3.9 million in “referral fees.”

Silver allegedly drummed up plaintiffs — and referral fees — by having Columbia University Medical Center cancer researcher Dr. Robert Taub funnel mesothelioma patients to the firm.

In return, Silver allegedly steered $500,000 in taxpayer-funded grants to Taub and $25,000 in state funds to a nonprofit employing Taub’s wife and a helped find a job for Taub’s son at a different nonprofit.

Dr. Taub has been fired.

Additional reporting by Isabel Vincent

See the article here – 

Silver’s law firm rakes in cash as asbestos court fast-tracks claims

Asbestos vics score $190M

Five cancer victims won a $190 million verdict in an asbestos case against two boiler companies.

Sadly, only two of the five plaintiffs lived to see their victory. The three other tradesmen died from mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

The law firm that represented the men, Weitz & Luxenberg, says the judgment is the largest ever of its type in New York City.

After an 11-week trial, a Manhattan Supreme Court jury reached the verdict Tuesday, having found that the national companies — Burnham and Cleaver-Brooks — acted with reckless disregard for human life.

JUSTICE: Cancer victim Paul Levy has a measure of satisfaction at his NJ home yesterday over the verdict.

David Gard

JUSTICE: Cancer victim Paul Levy has a measure of satisfaction at his NJ home yesterday over the verdict.

The men — steamfitters, plumbers and construction workers — were not warned of the dangers related to the exposure to the deadly material, said attorney Daniel Kraft Jr.

One of the surviving victims, Paul Levy, of New Jersey, was exposed to asbestos while fitting pipes on aircraft carriers like the USS Constellation in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He and his wife, Roslyn Levy, won a $60 million portion of the verdict. Lawyers and reps for the companies did not return messages for comment.



Asbestos vics score $190M