Families in 9/11 Financing
Case Ask to Have Judge Replaced
THE NEW YORK
Lawyers for families of 9/11 victims have taken the
unusual legal step of asking a federal appeals court in Manhattan to replace a
judge overseeing a group of terrorism-financing lawsuits, saying he is moving
too slowly in resolving key motions.
The judge, George B. Daniels of Federal District Court
in Manhattan, has yet to rule on almost 100 motions by defendants to dismiss
the case, the lawyers said in a petition to the United States Court of Appeals
for the Second Circuit.
The judge’s inaction is “effectively suspending the
litigation,” the lawyers wrote, “and immunizing those alleged to have sponsored
the attacks from having to answer for their conduct in this nation’s courts.”
Judge Daniels has allowed motions to linger in the
past. In 2003, he was found to have 289 motions in civil cases pending for more
than six months, easily the highest total of any federal judge at that time.
But he has since cleared the backlog, leaving fewer than two dozen such motions
The petition is not related to 9/11 wrongful death and
injury claims by families and rescue and cleanup workers that are before
another judge, Alvin K. Hellerstein, and appear close to resolution.
The lawsuits before Judge Daniels seek to hold
charities, financial institutions and other defendants responsible for
providing money and other support to Al Qaeda and for the 9/11 attacks. The
suits were originally consolidated before another judge, Richard Conway Casey;
after Judge Casey’s death in 2007, the case was transferred to Judge Daniels.
“The simple fact is we put into Judge Daniels’s hands
our most important and urgent life issue,” said a plaintiff, Alice Hoagland of
Los Gatos, Calif., whose son, Mark Bingham, was a passenger on United Airlines
Flight 93 who fought back against the hijackers before the plane crashed in
Ms. Hoagland, 60, has submitted an affidavit
concerning the delays. She said by telephone she feared that if Judge Daniels
was not replaced with “someone else who will work faster, I won’t live to see
any satisfactory outcome to this case at all.”
“It’s very frustrating,” she added.
Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics professor at New York
University School of Law, said: “This is, of course, a massive case. The tasks
required would be daunting to any judge. But that’s no excuse. Judges get paid
to decide cases expeditiously. If they have trouble doing that, they should
look for work elsewhere.”
The petition, filed this month, is not the first to
criticize Judge Daniels’s pace in handling civil suits. In 2004, The New York
Times described the judge’s high number of pending motions, as tabulated by the
Administrative Office of the United States Courts. The article said that in at
least eight cases parties had asked the Second Circuit to order the judge to
rule or perhaps send their cases to another judge.
A complicating factor in the terrorism-financing
litigation is that the original judge dismissed certain defendants, including
Saudi Arabia and several Saudi princes, as immune from suit. In 2008, the
Second Circuit upheld those dismissals, and in June 2009, the Supreme Court
refused to hear an appeal, leaving the Second Circuit ruling in place.
Judge Daniels did not personally respond to a request
for comment on the lawyers’ petition, but his chambers provided a three-page
history of the litigation, which suggests that the Second Circuit’s opinion and
other factors contributed to the delays.
The history says that Judge Daniels gave the parties
an opportunity to file additional briefs addressing the Second Circuit ruling,
and that one brief was filed as recently as May 10. The parties also recently
submitted letters on how a recent Supreme Court decision could affect pending
A court transcript also quotes Judge Daniels as saying
at an April 15 hearing that a ruling would be coming “within weeks.”
Michael K. Kellogg, a lawyer for the defendants, said
any delays had “largely been occasioned by plaintiffs asking Judge Daniels to
hold off on ruling while one or more developments played out in the courts of
appeals or the Supreme Court.”
“We fully expect the majority of those motions to be
granted promptly,” Mr. Kellogg added.
Robert T. Haefele, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers who
filed the petition, said the appeals did not preclude the judge from ruling on
the motions before him. “Both sides have encouraged the court to resolve the
motions,” Mr. Haefele said, “and the court expressed its intention to do so.”