$104M Award Seen Spurring WTC RelativesMay 8, 2003 | The Staten Island Advance Manhattan federal Court Judge Harold Baer's $104 million award yesterday to relatives of two World Trade Center victims who sued Iraq, Osama bin Laden and the Taliban might shake up the litigation landscape for Sept. 11 families on Staten Island.
The stunning court victory could trigger a stampede among the families many of whom are already plaintiffs in the $1 trillion lawsuit filed last year against the Saudis into other lawsuits against Iraq and entities linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network, according to some family members and their advocates.
"I think this will stir a lot of people to get involved in different lawsuits," Dennis McKeon, director of the World Trade Center Outreach Committee of St. Clare's Church in Great Kills, said yesterday.
McKeon, whose group has over 150 regular members, said a lot of the families had been "watching to see how things turned out" in some of the current Sept. 11-related lawsuits, and were "looking" to join either for these legal actions or new ones.
"Without a doubt, this will spur a lot of people," said William Doyle of Annadale, one of the leading plaintiffs in the Saudi suit.
Doyle, whose son, Joseph, 25, was killed at the World Trade Center, said that although perhaps a majority of the more than 200 Island families had joined the legal action against the Saudis, "a lot of people still have not signed with attorneys yet."
Joan Molinaro, another activist plaintiff in the Saudi case, expressed a different view. "I don't think that people who are going to get involved in litigation are already in the Saudi suit," she said. "I think people are pretty much where they are at."
Legal sources also doubted that the $104 million award would lead to a wave of new Sept. 11 plaintiffs and lawsuits.
The reason: The remote likelihood of anybody collecting anything from Iraq, bin Laden and the Taliban. "These are defunct entities I mean, go find the Taliban," said one attorney, who asked not to be identified.
He said that although the plaintiffs were supposed to have access to Iraq's nearly $2 billion in frozen U.S. assets, dozens of other successful litigants in other terrorism lawcases filed against Iraq over the past decade were already lined up to claim the money.
Lawyers in the Saudi suit, meanwhile, stressed that yesterday's decision in Manhattan had virtually no bearing on their case because the $104 million was awarded in a default judgment, one entered in a case where the defendants never responded to the charges.
The accused Saudis have denied they helped finance the Sept. 11 hijackings.
John D'Amato, a West Brighton attorney involved in the anti-Saudi litigation, said the "distinction between the two cases was that, whereas their defendants never showed up in court, ours have hired some of the best attorneys in the country."
In yesterday's decision, Judge Baer said he had concluded that lawyers for the two victims "have shown, albeit barely ... that Iraq provided material support to bin Laden and al-Qaida."
The judge heard evidence for two days in March to help him determine damages. In January, he issued a default order against the Taliban, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and the Republic of Iraq.