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Special Reports Last Updated: Jun 29th, 2007 - 01:07:29

Choosing 9/11 victim lawsuits for trial?
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

Jun 29, 2007, 01:05

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That headline, that question is why we�re here in Judge Hellerstein�s courtroom, this time 14D, half the size of the room for last week�s hearing. Of course, the usual suspects have been rounded up, lawyers for the airlines, the plaintiffs, a US attorney, fewer citizen onlookers, including myself, notebook open. Yet what I will hear will leave me as chagrined as June 14�s double-sized gathering reported in The 9/11 Victim�s Compensation Fund: cui bono?

This time, Judge Hellerstein is to announce a number of remaining victims� cases to be tried for victims� families that have not accepted fund money, but wish to take their loved one�s case to court for further inquiry, perhaps even for justice. Judge Hellerstein reminds the room that �the value of settling [for the money] has run its course.� And so? We are left with those who see some principle to stand for in a court trial, in discovery. In questioning how and why, for instance, their loved ones, how nearly 3,000, were murdered, especially given a $50 billion dollar intelligence system and a $500 billion defense budget -- all of which was totally inoperable on 9/11.

Somehow, it seems that the money won�t help those folks, those holdouts, get through the day and over the loss. Yet despite that fact, the good judge tells us, admitting it will probably come back to haunt him, �that money is the universal lubricant.� Ah yes, so let�s get to the greasing and make things turn. It�s going on six years since 9/11 and these hearings are still around.

That reminder leads the judge to a somber lecture that �life is short. And out of the mundane you can fashion something different, a memory for a different degree of pain for each person. Fashion a life beyond the pain. In fact, what is the fairest, most efficient way to get on with our lives? And if the opportunity comes, take it. We are not trying to cut short values or justice. But we have to get past 9/11. Let it go.� That is, despite the unanswered questions, despite these hearings, despite the massive sway of the media to swallow it all and buy the myth like a suit.

Then, rather than announce the cases chosen, the good judge asks both teams of lawyers what is the quickest, most efficient way to have some cases heard and -- subtext -- the whole bunch over with, �a wrap� as they say in the film business. Would it be, as one attorney suggested �to have the folks least uncomfortable, those willing to go forward,� to have their cases selected. Or would it have to do with those in the most manageable jurisdictions? Or should it be by the case itself, the individuals with fewer legal knots, less �discovery� needed, fewer people to grumble for them, fewer children?

Specific names are mentioned

Some of whom I will mention to show their humanity. In fact I look each one up on the Internet later, see their faces, imagine their small or big families, their lifestyles, the love that surrounded them or not. And it is heart-rending to look at their lives, especially of several friends not mentioned in the courtroom, one who bears my last name and could be an unmet cousin or a stranger, or simply flesh and blood like them all? Yet here we are, plotting to weigh the flesh and blood against its likely liability and damages, its justice delivered against the time taken to try in full the case, or each case, or every case left. What�s the hurry. Let�s get it right for once, not just passed it.

In fact, whose case, whose justice is worth more or less, the firefighter rushing to apocalypse or the flight attendant in it; the husband/father or mother/wife or single individual sitting at his/her desk in the Twin Towers or the Pentagon or in a lost airliner over a field, or worse, flown to some dark nowhere? Who volunteers here to be the juggler, the decider, the enabler of this system�s proposal? Who are these men and women about to calibrate what�s left of truth and justice down to the last nickel and penny and billable hour? And that to dole out the irresistible figures to even the most principled beings.

And, yet, when one of the lawyers stands and insists his client�s wish for trial is based on principle, not on money, the judge recites an anecdote. He remembers that when he was a lawyer and clients came to him, saying it was not the money, it was the principle for which they were bringing suit, that when his first bill came, it was a matter of money, how much would it cost, and soon the principle went out the window.

One wonders first how scalding his hourly was, and second what has brought him to this degree of cynicism about his own life�s work. For if after all is said and done, it�s just about grease, why not get a monkey to do the job. And when the lawyer asserts this is not the case with his clients, the judge suggests the lawyer is talking �out of both sides of his mouth. Thank you. That is all.� Subtext, sit down, shut up.

Yet, when another lawyer reminds the judge, who has actually thrown out a name himself, Mariani, that is Mrs. Ellen Mariani, by the way the first litigant ever in the fund�s history. And then the lawyer suggests that Miss Mariani is not willing to appear in court. But that is Miss Mariani he is speaking of, the step-daughter of Mrs. Mariani, the original litigant, whose name was taken off her own case, and replaced by her step-daughter�s, Miss Mariani or Loren Peters. Is a lawyer of his accomplishment not aware of who is who?

In fact, when this hour and a half of kangaroo is over, I go over to him and ask him. As some of his distinguished colleagues look on, I ask if he has willfully mistaken Miss Mariani, who was party to having Mrs. Mariani�s name removed from her own two suits, one against the government, one against United Airlines, and replaced with her own, Loren Peters? Has he found a convenient obfuscation to silence the one voice that has cried the longest and the loudest for a trial in a court of law to find out what went wrong on that day to take her husband�s life? Yes, that voice is, was, and will be, Mrs. Mariani.

This in spite of the back-room dealings aided and abetted by Greenberg-Traurig lawyers, and various famous and infamous legal beagles to bring Miss Mariani into the case, and have Mrs. Mariani vanish in obscurity. But here is one person who remembers, who respectfully reminds, who respectfully stands perhaps for thousands, perhaps millions who remember who said what first, and what will not be surgically removed with a slip of the tongue, if that is all it was, though I doubt it. The history is long and complex as Tom Flocco will tell you in NH widow fights 9/11 estate challenge linked to President Bush.

For instance . . .

�Mariani knows a witness to the encounter who personally met and conversed with Lauren Peters since she was also in Boston's Greenberg Traurig office with Mariani's step-daughter on the same day and recognized Peters.

�The woman is also a 9-11 widow and has told several others about the incident in Greenberg's Boston office, after introducing herself to Peters since she recognized a photo of Neil Mariani on a pin Peters was wearing when they met outside Bakinowski�s office.

�During a recent deposition under oath, Peters denied knowing Bakinowski but said she may have met someone named Greenberg in Boston but couldn't recall the meeting, according to Mariani, speaking exclusively to

�Mariani told us that Greenberg-Traurig attorney Daniel Bakinowski met with her late husband's daughter Lauren Peters in February 2003. However, before that time, Ms. Peters supported Mariani's suit against United Airlines (by law Peters participates in any settlement or judgment).

�Since the meeting with Bakinowski, Peters has continued to press for administrative and financial control of Neil Mariani's estate, accusing the New Hampshire widow of incompetence in her capacity as estate administratix because Mariani refused to accept a financial settlement from the 9-11 Victim Compensation fund.� And so on. Read it all, right through the abundant Bush-Greenberg-Traurig relationships, which are notoriously abundant.

For instance . . .

�a) Greenberg Traurig lawyer Barry S. Richard represented George W. Bush as his lead Florida attorney in the Bush-Gore 2000 election recount in the Sunshine State. And well into his presidency, Bush still owed the Greenberg firm nearly one million dollars for work done by dozens of lawyers and paralegals -- leaving some to question why a Republican candidate would hire a Democratic lawyer from a Democratic firm when the presidency hung in the balance. Greenberg's Richard also represented Bush�s brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

�b) On Election Day, November 7, 2000, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia�s son John Scalia accepted a position with Greenberg-Traurig; and on November 8 -- the day after the election, Greenberg Traurig partner Barry Richard said he was called about representing George W. Bush in the Florida presidential recount which ultimately led to the 5-4 Supreme Court vote placing Bush in the presidency. The timing of these actions raises significant questions about inner machinations between Bush-Cheney 2000 and Greenberg Traurig -- if not the Supreme Court itself.

�c) Greenberg-Traurig attorney Eric MacLeish chairs the board of the Massachusetts 9/11 Fund to benefit 170+ families in the state who lost loved ones in the attacks, while also offering free financial planning assistance and free legal services in estate administration and other related areas. Greenberg lawyers Dan Bakinowski and Erin O�Donnell assist MacLeish with 9-11 legal services; and Bush family banking house Brown Brothers Harriman investment account manager Page deGregorio handles all Mass911 fund donations . . .

d) Three months before the September 11 attacks, Alberto Jose Mora -- counsel to the Washington, DC office of Greenberg Traurig -- was appointed by President Bush to be the General Counsel of the Department of the Navy. The position also places Mora with the responsibility of legal oversight for the elite Office of Naval Intelligence which assumed a joint intelligence role with the CIA and FBI prior to the September 11 attacks.

�e) Raquel A. Rodriguez, another Greenberg Traurig attorney, represents Florida Governor Jeb Bush as his personal general counsel.

�f) Jack Abramoff, Washington lobbyist for the Greenberg Traurig firm, raised $100,000 in bundled $2,000 dollar individual contributions for this year�s Bush-Cheney 2004 election campaign, raising him to the elite status of Bush "Pioneer" fundraiser.

�g) Greenberg Traurig partially financed a congressional-defense contractor delegation trip to Israel (Major General Taguba links defense contractor CACI International to prison torture techniques) with top U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committee members which raised unanswered questions regarding whether legislators exchanged prison �interrogation training� (known to insiders as �R 2 I,� short for resistance to interrogation) for the awarding of Homeland Security contracts to Israel. Legislators' names were not revealed.� And so on.

And so as I look the lawyer in the face . . .

He tells me he can�t talk about Miss Mariani�s case or her condition, which has in fact lasted over a long period of time, pre-dating the awful events of 9/11 and precludes her from appearing. And who am I, he asks, asking these questions? And I offer my hand, my name, my ethnicity (the same as his), my country (the same as his), my profession (writer), and that I am a friend of Mrs. Mariani, and share a mutual desire to see justice served.

And having spoken my piece, at least to him and his colleagues, which include one of the nation�s most lauded trial lawyers, I bid him and them a good day, or evening. For it is near six, and we, I, have been listening to this sonata of disinformation, non-discovery, and how to best hush speakers, for nearly two hours. It�s time to go, each man to his own family, his own conscience and discovery, his own assessment of liability and damages, in whatever order they proceed.

It�s time for each man to descend from this tower of justice, or is it Babel, onto Pearl Street, into the warm and humid air of the June 25 evening, joining the flow of the crowds bound east and west, north and south. Time for me to descend with two new friends I�ve made while witnessing these events, one a fireman, one a blogger, both hoping for truth and justice, despairing if either will come to pass. No matter how many hearings or trials are held, is the system hopelessly corrupted?

For justice as truth, both begin in the heart, with compassion and an honest desire for equality. Justice and truth do not begin or end in the grease pit, among the lubricators, the fabricators. Justice, as portrayed in its mighty statue, must be blind to rich and poor, to the powerful and the powerless. For justice as truth holds the scales of our lives and their quality. Justice must hold that scale high as the nearby Brooklyn Bridge, as high as the fallen towers once were or those liners that did not down them, as high as the sky grayed with gases and that awful cloud.

This justice, at the end of the day, this June 25, 2007, is what we will have to live or die with, all we have to call ourselves civilized and not barbarians at the gate. And out there, beyond the harbor of New York and its Statue of Liberty, beyond the spacious ocean and its catch, the world watches us, listens to our words, acts on our actions. And so is the future made, for better or worse.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York. Reach him at

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