Roy Simon was leading a legal ethics conference at Hofstra University on Sept. 11, 2001, when word spread that the World Trade Center had been struck by two hijacked planes.
Nearly nine years later, the Hofstra law professor and ethics expert's connection to the attacks has come full circle: He was tapped Thursday to take a key role in a proposed settlement of lawsuits filed by people who believe they were sickened during rescue and cleanup work at the Twin Towers.
Simon, 60, of West Hempstead, said his role is to answer questions about the proposal "in a way that is not skewed one way or the other" and review letters from attorneys to plaintiffs.
He said U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein asked him six weeks ago to take the job.
He will prepare a 15- to 20-page information packet for plaintiffs that explains the 100-page settlement, he said. Simon did not know when the packet would be available.
"I am going to look at [the letters] and make sure that the lawyers fairly and accurately describe what the lawyers' interests are [and] what the lawyers' conflicts are," Simon said. "I'm not there to convince any plaintiff to accept it or convince any plaintiff not to accept it."
To take effect, the proposed settlement requires approval by 95 percent of plaintiffs, who have until Sept. 30 to decide whether to accept it.
Hellerstein said Thursday that Simon's position as an objective third party will help address any concerns that lawyers, who stand to earn 25 percent of the settlement, have a built-in conflict of interest.
"I've reached out for him to be the neutral guy to make sure it's not only fair to the group, but fair to the individual," Hellerstein said.
Said Simon: "I don't think the lawyers are trying to hide anything."
With John Riley