State Senate candidate Todd Kaminsky is calling opponent Christopher McGrath’s new television ad “misleading” for claiming that McGrath “refused to be paid” for legal representation of Sept. 11, 2001 victims.
McGrath, a Republican and a personal injury attorney from Hewlett, last week released an ad that highlights him helping slain firefighters’ families secure federal benefits right after the terror attacks.
“If there’s a fight worth fighting for, count on Chris McGrath being there,” a narrator says. “Just ask the families of the firefighters who gave their lives on September 11th. Chris McGrath not only successfully fought in court to make sure they received the benefits they deserved — he refused to be paid.”
Kaminsky, a Democratic state assemblyman from Long Beach, isn’t disputing that the Garden City law firm of Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo P.C. — where McGrath is a partner — did initial pro-bono work.
But Kaminsky’s campaign is focusing on a later case in which the firm represented hundreds of other firefighters sickened at Ground Zero who had sued New York City. The Sullivan firm earned some of the millions of dollars in legal fees from a 2010 settlement of those lawsuits.
McGrath, as a partner who shares in the law firm’s earnings, shouldn’t be able to claim he “refused to be paid” for Sept. 11-related work, Kaminsky’s campaign asserts.
“Claiming to work ‘pro bono’ for the heroes of 9/11, but taking millions of dollars of victims’ settlements . . . is misleading at best,” Kaminsky said in a statement.
E. O’Brien Murray, a McGrath spokesman, did not address the 2010 settlement in which Sullivan Papain received legal fees. But he repeated details of the firm’s pro-bono work for firefighters’ families right after the attacks and said it also didn’t charge firefighters seeking benefits in recent years through the federal James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
“If Todd Kaminsky wants to play politics with the lives of first responders and their families, he should be ashamed of himself,” Murray said in a statement.
Kaminsky’s campaign responded by accusing McGrath of “cynically” using 9/11 victims “to try to get elected.”
McGrath and Kaminsky are locked in a competitive race in the April 19 special election to replace former State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) following his conviction on federal corruption charges.
To back up the McGrath ad’s claims, his campaign provided a 2004 open letter from the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which represents FDNY firefighters, to the New York Bar Association. The letter credited Sullivan Papain, the union’s general counsel, for “extraordinary pro bono work . . . for hundreds of New York’s Bravest and their families.”
The letter said the firm represented 362 injured firefighters and families of deceased firefighters who applied for benefits from the initial federal Sept. 11 Victims Compensation Fund.
Referring to the subsequent settlement for sickened first responders, Cassidy said: “What happened afterward, years later, is to me a completely separate issue.”
That later “World Trade Center Disaster Site Litigation” case involved more than 10,000 plaintiffs who sued New York City over health problems they said they experienced after working at ground zero. The suit was settled in 2010 for more than $700 million, before Congress approved the Zadroga Act.
Plaintiffs’ law firms received 25 percent of the principal settlement amount. Sullivan Papain represented about 700 plaintiffs.
The law firms later sought additional legal fees from a “bonus payment” that kicked in when more than 95 percent of plaintiffs accepted settlement terms. They unsuccessfully appealed a federal judge’s decision capping the fees to the previously agreed-upon 25 percent of the base settlement, about $187 million.