Eight days after a tentative deal was reached to create a $657.5 million settlement fund to compensate thousands of rescue and cleanup workers who toiled at Ground Zero, the judge overseeing the case has ordered the parties back to the bargaining table.
“In my judgement, this settlement is not enough,” Judge Alvin Hellerstein told lawyers Friday afternoon. “I will not preside over a settlement based on fear or ignorance.”
Hellerstein also criticized the part of the settlement that would give lawyers a third, saying it should be less and it should come not from the settlement but from the WTC Captive Insurance Fund, which was set up with a $1 billion grant from the federal government.
“I will fix the reasonableness of the fee and the fee will be payable by the captive insurance fund,” he said.
The head of the fund, Christine LaSala, reacted to the judge’s order by seeming to demonize it and play upon the fear of the families, which was exactly what Hellerstein had warned against.
“I am very disappointed that the judge has now made it very difficult, if not impossible, for the people bringing these claims to obtain fair, timely and just compensation, a settlement that they have long waited for.”
Hellerstein’s decision was also a blow to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg who had praised the settlement, saying:
“This settlement is a fair and reasonable resolution to a complex set of circumstances.”
Several workers praised Hellerstein’s decision.
“I was real proud of the judge, former cop Richard Vole told The New York Post. “I think he showed a lot of compassion and I think he showed a lot of bravery.”