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The Legal Aftermath of 9/11: Part 2

The Legal Aftermath of 9/11: Part 2

THE ADVOCATES

While many survivors and families of victims chose to utilize the Victim Compensation Fund - which was set up by the government as an alternative to litigation - others sought remedies in court. James Kreindler '80 represents 600 victims' families and 1,000 people injured in the 9/11 attacks against 300 defendants who allegedly sponsored the work of al-Qaida, including Saudi Arabian princes and businesses.

"It's factually a very complicated case with the financial trail deliberately obscured for many years," he says. "And politically, it's not an easy case, with President Bush's announcement that Saudi Arabia is an ally in the war on terror."

An expert in aviation accident law, Mr. Kreindler also serves on the plaintiff's committee on 90 cases pending against American Airlines and United Airlines related to 9/11. For the past 17 years, he has worked on the case surrounding the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which Libya agreed to pay $2.7 billion to relatives of those killed.

"Compensating the families was one of the UN Security Council requirements of Libya," he notes

"We had enormous worldwide political support for our case. 9/11 is much more complex. We are not focused on one country as a definite bad actor. The whole story may not emerge for a decade or more."

Like Mr. Kreindler, Blair Fensterstock '75 is no stranger to such litigation. He serves as lead counsel for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing plaintiff's committee. While his 9/11-related suits primarily involved commercial landlord/tenant disputes that have since been resolved, he is con-cerned about the long delays that seem to be endemic to complex civil proceedings.

"We have gone up to the Court of Appeals several times on discovery issues relating to the public interest privilege [in the 1993 case]," he says. "The process has dragged on much too long. It's a sad state of affairs when litigation continues for a period of 12 years before you can get to trial. It's a plaintiff's nightmare, a defendant's dream, and the judiciary's haunt."

He views the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund as an attractive alternative.

"The body politic in the United States has come to the realization, rightfully so, after the 1993 WTC bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing, that a victims' compensation fund is inherently fair and a valuable concept for compensating victims of terrorist attacks," he adds.

Whether the attack on the World Trade Center qualifies as two events or a single occurrence is the source of other complex litigation. Harvey Kurzweil '69 represents Travelers Indemnity Company, one of nine insurers that lost the second phase of a jury trial in December 2004.

Mr. Kurzweil argued that the attack on the World Trade Center was part of "one, unified, coordinated terrorist attack" and considered it a single occurrence, which would have cut the insurance payout in half.

"The jury deliberated for 11 days," he says. "That's almost unprecedented in a civil case." Mr. Kurzweil anticipates appealing the verdict.

THE ARBITERS

Judge John S. Martin, Jr. '61 presided over the preliminary stages of the 9/11 insurance-coverage litigations as a judge for the Southern District of New York (SDNY). He stepped down from the bench in 2003, becoming of counsel with Debevoise & Plimpton. As a private attorney, he was called upon to mediate a settlement. However, the parties ultimately were unable to reach an agreement, and the case proceeded to trial.

One of his former colleagues on the SDNY bench, Alvin Hellerstein '56, issued the ruling that rejected the airlines' claim that they were only liable for passengers on their flights, not those who perished in the towers. 

"While it may be true that terrorists had not before deliberately flown airplanes into buildings, the airlines reasonably could foresee that crashes causing death and destruction on the ground was a hazard that would arise should hijackers take control of a plane," Judge Hellerstein ruled.

U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M.  Gorton '65  is one of 11 federal judges on the Foreign Intelli-gence Surveillance Court,  the closed court that approves electronic surveillance and physical searches against alleged agents of foreign powers.  Created in 1978, the court, which meets pe-riodically in Washington, D.C., has played a more active role since 9/11.  In 2003, the court ap-proved more than 1,700 applications from the government for electronic surveillance or physical searches, nearly double the number of 2001.  

THE PROTECTORS

While he, too, is now a SDNY district judge, Ken Karas '91 previously served as co-chief of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York's unit specializing in terrorism cases. An al-Qaida expert, he successfully prosecuted four of Osama bin Laden's followers for the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa. He also was the lead prosecutor in the case against Zacarias Moussaoui, who pled guilty on April 22 to six counts of conspiring with the 9/11 hijackers.

Two other prominent Columbians, Richard Ben-Veniste '67 and Slade Gorton '53, were active members of the National Commission on Ter-rorist Attacks Upon the United States - commonly known as the 9/11 Commission - the independent, bipartisan panel that was chartered to investigate the circumstances surrounding the 9/11 attacks and to provide recommendations to guard against future terrorist strikes. Both men brought a wealth of experience to the commission. Mr. Ben-Veniste, now a partner at Washington, D.C.'s Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw, served as a member of the Whitewater Committee, the Watergate Task Force, and as a U.S. attorney in the SDNY. Mr. Gorton served as the U.S. senator from the state of Washington from 1981-87 and 1989-2001 and state attorney general from 1969-81.

Some recommendations in the eminently readable report - which sold more than 100,000 copies its first day and became a national bestseller - were embraced by President Bush less than a month after it was released in July 2004, including the appointment of an anti-terrorism czar who would oversee the nation's 15 intelligence agencies.

On the very front lines, beginning at the Presidential Emergency Operations Center on September 11, was Lewis Libby '75, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney since January 2001. A former deputy under-secretary of defense and an expert in international and public policy matters, Mr. Libby has worked closely with the White House in its response to 9/11 and in its overall strate-gies to defeat terrorism throughout the world.