The New York State Trial Lawyers Association, working with the New York judiciary, secured space for TLC at a nominal rent, and on January 7, 2002, the five-person staff moved into a state court building at 80 Centre Street.
A Concern about Funding
Funding continued to be a major concern. As the staff grew and TLC learned more about what was required to represent victims, its budget increased, eventually reaching $4.5 million. The AAJ budget was already stretched to the breaking point, so funding for the program had to be raised elsewhere
Fortunately, TLC secured major grants from the leading 9/11 charity in New York, the September 11th Fund, which also facilitated significant funding from the Red Cross. The September 11th Fund made a considerable additional contribution to TLC’s program for catastrophically injured victims, whose cases involved extraordinary expenses. Without those charities, TLC would probably not have been able to fulfill its mission.
By spring 2002, the TLC staff had expanded to 21, each of whom were passionately committed. Led by executive directors John Bailey and Susan Yakutis, victim-outreach and attorney-assignment coordinator Sandra Cuneo, and attorneys Meryl Braunstein, Paul Holdorf and John Jeannopoulos, the staff logged long hours to help victims and support volunteers. No question went unanswered: In about two and a half years, TLC staff lawyers responded to more than 7,000 inquiries from volunteer attorneys.
Many victims found making decisions or even addressing daily needs extremely difficult, so TLC expanded its outreach, ensuring that program representatives attended every advocacy group meeting, session with Ken Feinberg (the Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund), and other events where victims gathered.
Attorneys from across the country volunteered, but distance complicated the case-assignment process. Most victims wanted a local lawyer, and to ensure that representation was truly cost-free, TLC required out-of-state volunteers to travel at their own expense to meet with clients. As a result, TLC lost some long-distance volunteers and had to undertake a major attorney recruitment effort. With significant help from the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, TLC always had enough volunteer lawyers to fulfill all requests for representation.
Work continued at a frantic pace during the summer and fall of 2002. TLC and its volunteers were learning that representing victims of such a horrific event was complex and time-consuming, and preparing claims was not easy. Many victims needed help gathering relevant documents and identifying witnesses. And because the process was skewed toward compensating economic losses, excellent lawyering was needed to fully develop all aspects of those losses such as the replacement value of services provided by those killed in the attacks. All this slowed the claim-filing process.
The regulations answered many questions that arose during claim preparation but left many uncertainties. Those uncertainties and the lack of any precedent for this type of compensation were contributing to a sense of unease among victims, so TLC selected 16 “lead” cases that involved a broad range of issues and, working with the individual attorneys, committed major resources to help prepare the cases and submit them as a group to Feinberg. Later, a second group of eight cases was submitted.
The lead cases clarified many issues, showed the victim community that awards would be fair, and quieted critics who claimed that pro bono representation would be less than adequate.
TLC also addressed a host of other issues. For many months, it sought and finally obtained written assurances from the Immigration and Naturalization Service that undocumented foreign claimants would not face deportation because they filed a claim with the fund. The regulations were silent on the rights of domestic partners, and TLC advocated for their inclusion as beneficiaries; Feinberg considered this question on a case-by-case basis. TLC also pressed for structured payout options, which were finally approved in late 2003.