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Judge orders disbarred ex-NJ attorney to show why he’s still practicing

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A lawyer who drew international acclaim for huge settlements for Holocaust survivors and South African apartheid victims, then later was disbarred for misappropriating their funds, has been ordered by a federal judge to show why he shouldn’t be held in contempt for still practicing law.

Edward D. Fagan

Edward D. Fagan has filed lawsuits on behalf of various people seeking reparations after being disbarred for unethical conduct three years ago, U.S. District Reggie B. Walton noted in his order.

Fagan, who turns 60 next month, “cannot enter an appearance on behalf of other individuals,” Walton said.

Still, Fagan filed a federal lawsuit in June against Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) and Credit Suisse, arguing that Hungarian and Romanian Holocaust-era-accounts were destroyed by Swiss banks and not included in his 1998 class-action-settlement of $1.25-billion.

In turn, the banks contended that he “lacks standing to bring this suit on his own behalf and on behalf of a makeshift entity that appears to be his own alter-ego.”

Fagan tried bringing a similar case in Florida against the Czech Republic seeking the recovery of valuable artwork. But a judge prevented him from proceeding with the $50 million claim.

For his part, Fagan has said: “I have spent the last many years repenting for my past wrongdoings…. I was in over my head a lot of the time.

“They took my license, but not my brains,” Fagan told the Sun Sentinel in an email exchange from Prague earlier this year. “I am very proud of what I am now doing and hopefully I can be judged by who I am and what I am doing today — not based on the past.”

That past includes a host of reparation lawsuits filed against various governments and companies throughout the world, many of which judges dismissed. The cases initially drew international media attention, until the truth of his debts and disbarments in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania began to emerge.

The trouble began in 1996, when Fagan filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Auschwitz survivor Gizella Weisshaus of Brooklyn against the Swiss banks for the recovery of her father’s bank account.

Weisshaus said she fired Fagan two years later after discovering that Fagan entered secret negotiations with Swiss banks.

Years later, New Jersey authorities found that $82,583 had been misappropriated from Weisshaus’s deceased cousin’s escrow account,

Weisshaus currently has a claim pending against Fagan before the U.S. Supreme Court for $80,000 he admittedly took. Fagan insists she owes him that money for work he did, although hasn’t proven it.

“I was a terrible bookkeeper,” he told the court.

To say that Fagan has led a colorful life is understating it.

He started out with large law firms in Manhattan and New Jersey, including one in Morristown that defended companies against personal injury claims. Fagan then jumped the fence and began representing those filing the claims.

In the 1980s, he launched an exploration club that offered rich customers exotic vacations accompanied by scientists and environmentalists.

His biggest case came in 200, when he sued governments and companies in Germany and Austria on behalf of 82,000 Holocaust victims and family members.

Fagan went on to file other massive cases, some of which were dismissed outright. One of those suits, in 2004, was filed in Manhattan on behalf of a Holocaust victims group that didn’t exist. The federal judge in the case blasted Fagan, citing a “lack of preparation and professionalism,” among other shortcomings.

Another sought compensation on behalf of descendents of African slaves from insurance giants Lloyd’s of London for insuring trade ships more than 250 years ago. Fagan has tried to represent relatives of people who died in a railway disaster, an earthquake and other instances — all without success.

Then there’s the $30 million suit he filed six years ago against the makers of the film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” which he said violated the human rights of two Romanian villagers.

Fagan said he intended to “teach Hollywood a lesson.” But a federal judge threw out the case.

All the while, individial personal-injury clients were being short-changed or ignored, court papers show. Fagan, meantime, was reportedly accruing huge debts, including back taxes.

At one point, Fagan had 28 outstanding court awards and liens of more than $4 million against him and his firm, Fagan & Associates.

The New Jersey Supreme Court, in disbarring him, said Fagan misappropriated nearly $400,000 of the money he won for Holocasut victims. This came after his disbarment in New York for “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.”

“This was an ordinary man who got swept up in issues that were bigger than he was,” said NYU Law professor Burt Neuborne, who said Fagan did none of the legal work that secured the German slave-labor settlement.

Neuborne said Fagan’s goal was “to get his name out there so other people would sign up with him, so he could get more and more and more and more people in the fold and then show up in court and say ‘I am the top lawyer cause I have got the most clients.'”

Weisshaus, the named plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Swiss banks, opted out of the settlement, saying it appeared the attorneys in the case were taking their fees before the survivors had received any money.

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