Vin Simko introduced Attorney Richard Bieder, of Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder, a firm nationally known for representing individual and class action cases resulting from mass disasters, consumer rights, personal injuries, commercial fraud and misrepresentation and other matters. Richard represented victims of the collapse of the Ambience Plaza building in Bridgeport.
Richard began with a joke about an interview with the Commander after the 6 day war. Asked to what he attributed the success of his tank commanders, he replied that, "They are after all lawyers, and you know how they can charge."
Richard then proceeded to reverse negative stereotypes of lawyers by describing how the Trial Lawyers Association mobilized to help victims of 9/11. Involved from the beginning, it's president called Richard right away, and within 2 days he had started to work, pro bono (and around the clock) as one of the three founders of TLC (Trial Lawyers Care, Inc.), a group of trial lawyers dedicated to getting help where it was most needed after 9/11. That morning changed America, he said, and we reacted by showing our resilience. 3 hours after the attack people lay buried. The trial lawyers banded together instantly. It was a challenge Richard couldn't resist. Within 2 days he was working with congressmen and senators to be sure airlines could stay in business. Airlines needed to be bailed out - there was a possibility that they would otherwise be grounded for a period of time. There was deep concern for the families of those killed or maimed.
The President of the Trial Lawyers Association called for a moratorium on lawsuits. He promised Congress that if a fund was put together to help the families of those who lost their lives, he would guarantee that lawyers would represent each and every one of them without charging anything. The Victim Compensation fund was established in October.
By the 4th day, TLC had been founded and Richard began a continuous involvement with the President and Congressional leaders focused on dealing with the aftermath of 9/11. No one had imagined that some family members would be too proud to take the money, but many were, and part of the job was persuading them that this was not "blood money" but money given by the American Government as an expression of concern and with the intent to help.
Statutes establishing the Victims Compensation Fund were passed and one of the lawyers' jobs was establishing regulations to flesh out the statutes, outlining tangible rules - how this would work. This was critical. Committees of lawyers knowledgeable about regulations were set up and within a month a thick book of regulations was in place. All was accomplished in the atmosphere of a state of emergency. Thousands of lawyers had to be lined up. The Trial Lawyers Association donated $100,000. The Red Cross gave $1,000,000 and this money was used to set up an office to take care of the administrative work, to print up a 300 page handbook for lawyers to use, and to set up a website which lawyers joined to offer their services.
Standards for representation were set. Lawyers were educated and a mentoring system established so that young lawyers could be trained to help. 1,092 volunteer lawyers represented, without pay, more than 1,700 victims who made claims under the Victims Compensation Act. The number one priority was to alleviate the suffering of victim's families. By September 20th the Airline Transportation Safety and Stabilization Act was passed to provide loan guarantees to airlines for which credit was not otherwise available, and continuation of a viable commercial aviation system in the U.S. was thereby assured. Hundreds of meetings were held and attended. Detailed presentations were put together for each client.
Attorney General Ashcroft appointed Kenneth Feinberg as Special Master of the Victim Compensation Fund. He listened to innumerable stories and heard appeals, presiding over a majority of the 1700 hearings and working pro bono, under terrific stress, for 33 months.
TLC is the largest pro bono legal program in the history of jurisprudence. Richard described lawyers working until midnight every night and his voice broke when he described the suffering and tragedy he encountered. He still can't talk about it. He had to put his emotions aside to do the work. He said that toughest part of the job was listening to widows and families. Awards ranged from one to two million dollars. To him, the idea that the country was helping them was more valuable than the money. The grieving process for victims of a mass disaster takes two to three times as long as for other disasters.
Often the public is cynical about the role lawyers play in our society. On 9/11 our trial lawyers came to the rescue. Richard worked, pro bono, for three years, and he said he'd do it again tomorrow.
President Rosa stressed how proud she was to have an attorney at Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder representing our country in this endeavor, and she's proud of what he's done for the local Bridgeport community as well.