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NEW YORK � A half-dozen sheriff’s deputies raided a disbarred attorney’s office last week in search of the 43 boxes of files he has refused to hand over to the law firm that has taken over his biggest case, a wrongful-death action filed by a Bronx woman on behalf of her husband, a ship-rigger who plummeted to his death at the Brooklyn Navy Yards. For all practical purposes, the deputies came out of Kenneth Heller’s office empty-handed. “None of the records we’ve been seeking [were] there,” said Michael Feldman, a partner at Jacoby & Meyers, who, with Terry Horner, now represents the plaintiff, “No trial notes, no photographs, no witness statements, no pleadings. The only thing that was there was the record � generated as a result of my efforts to obtain the file.” The dispute over the case files began in the summer of 2004. Three years earlier, Heller had won a $25 million jury award in Ruby Emanuel’s case, which Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Leland Degrasse reduced to $7.6 million in Emanuel v. Sheridan Transport Corp., 82725-02. Then in May 2004, an Appellate Division, First Department, panel threw out the verdict and remanded the case to the Supreme Court. Exactly 50 days later, another First Department panel disbarred Heller for a pattern of improprieties predating Emanuel’s case. (Two judges, Justices David Friedman and George Marlow, sat on both First Department panels.) In Matter of Heller, 05529, a unanimous panel held, “In light of the cumulative evidence of respondent’s 24-year history of sanctions, his perverse and persistent refusal to accept adverse rulings, reflective of an utter contempt for the judicial system, and his consistent, reprehensible, unprofessional behavior, which has included screaming at, threatening and disparaging judges, adversaries and experts, intentionally defying court rulings, and disrupting and thwarting proper legal process through both physical and verbal aggression, we are of the opinion that the appropriate sanction here is disbarment.” Having first lost her multimillion award and then her attorney in just over a month, Emanuel, a Bronx mother of two who had recently filed for bankruptcy, turned to Jacoby & Meyers to take over her late husband’s wrongful-death claim. The firm has spent the last 2 1/2 years trying to recover her files. In various court papers, Heller has demanded from $2 million to more than $12 million in fees, as well as $300,000 to $400,000 in unitemized disbursements, before turning over the documents. Court orders and a night in jail, as well as a $10,000 sanction and 30-day jail sentence ordered by Bronx Supreme Court Justice Howard Silver � currently stayed by the First Department � have failed to alter his stance. Justice Silver recently issued a warrant and on March 20, a team of deputies, accompanied by a locksmith, stormed Heller’s lower Broadway office. (Although disbarred, Heller maintains an office listed as the Kenneth Heller Law Office with Verizon, WestLaw and Yahoo Yellow Pages.) While Heller has offered various accounts of the location of the cases � lost, in a house upstate, damaged by a flood and discarded by workers � they apparently were not in his office. Feldman said the fight for the files will go on, citing Heller’s appeal of his sentence for contempt, which is pending before the First Department. “I’m an optimist and a realist,” Feldman said. “I think that anybody who is threatened with 30 days in jail and a $10,000 fine will eventually come to their senses. “ NEGLIGENCE VERDICT REVERSED James Emanuel suffered the injuries that would eventually take his life in the early morning hours of Dec. 17, 1992, while part of a crew dry-docking a tank-barge in the Brooklyn Navy Grading Dock. The ship, known as the ST-114, had taken on water, following a shallow-stranding on rocky ground two weeks earlier. Emanuel, a ship-rigger for G. Marine Diesel Corp., was helping rig a gangplank that would connect the ST-114 to the dock. A crane lifted the gangplank in order to position one end on the ship, but the gangplank slipped off the deck, throwing Emanuel to the bottom of the dry dock, a fall of nearly five stories. He spent the next 20 months in a hospital, paralyzed from the neck down, before succumbing to his injuries in August 1994.
Court orders and a night in jail, as well as a $10,000 sanction and 30-day jail sentence ordered by Bronx Supreme Court Justice Howard Silver � currently stayed by the First Department � have failed to alter Kenneth Heller’s stance.

His widow, Ruby Emanuel, who was 47 at the time of the accident, hired Heller, a veteran maritime-law expert, to pursue a claim. Heller filed an $800 million suit against the ship’s owner, energy giant Amerada Hess, and the ship’s operator, Spentonbush/Red Star Companies, among others. A Manhattan jury found Amerada Hess and Spentonbush negligent, and awarded Ruby Emanuel $25 million. Under protest, Heller consented to a reduction to $7.6 million Three years later, finding “issues of fact concerning whether the barge owner breached its active control duty,” the First Department reversed and remanded. The following month, it prohibited him from practicing law. JUDICIAL TRANSFERS Over the past three years, the case has bounced among a half-dozen Supreme Court judges, each of whom has heard different stories and different demands from Heller. Feldman blames Heller’s propensity for filing unsubstantiated complaints against judges for the rash of transfers. An Office of Court Administration spokeswoman declined to discuss reasons why any of the judges recused themselves. Heller did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment. The First Department remanded the matter to Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Richard Braun. The case was later transferred to Justice Marilyn Shafer, then to Justice Doris Ling-Cohan, then to Bronx Supreme Court Justice Sallie Manzanet, and finally to Justice Silver. At one point, Justice Braun � declining to recognize Jacoby & Meyers as counsel as Heller had refused to sign a Consent to Change Attorney � dismissed the case for failure to appear. (The court restored the case three months later.) The 78-year-old Heller has also sought adjournments based on conflicting medical claims. In January 2006, he sought a postponement of a hearing before Justice Shafer because, he said, “I am under medicinal care and taking the antibiotic CYPRO [sic] which confines me to one place so that I cannot walk or travel anywhere.” Three months later, he sought another delay. “I have a medical emergency,” he swore in an affidavit. “I am forced to travel tonight to Sao Paolo, Brazil. My brother-in-law � is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). He may expire unless he is getting the medical breathing device I am bringing.” But the central delay is Heller’s demand for upwards of $12 million. “I must be compensated for the extraordinary time, effort and performance I rendered,” Mr. Heller argued in a recent cross-motion seeking to vacate a contempt order. He estimated that his office has spent over 18,500 hours � more than nine years of 40-hour weeks � on the case. Complicating matters, the attorneys for the defense, Hill, Betts & Nash, are unable to assist Jacoby & Meyers, as their own records were destroyed � along with their office � on Sept. 11, 2001. Christopher McGrath, a litigation partner at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo who is not involved in this case, said that the law is not on Heller’s side. “What’s common practice � is that [the outgoing attorney] would turn over the file and [the incoming attorney] would give over an agreement that all attorneys fees will be held in escrow until [they] agree upon a fee or the court orders what the fee will be,” McGrath said. “With a disbarred attorney, it’s a little different, because any fee must be approved by the judge.” Fifteen years after her husband’s accident, Emanuel, now 62, simply wants the matter to end. “It’s like being left in limbo, you’re betwixt and between,” she said by phone last week. “What I would really like to see is some closure in the case. It’s like resurfacing when there’s an open wound and it never closes and it never has a chance to heal.” Mark Fass is a reporter with the New York Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate.

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