X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Jeffrey Green walked the ravaged streets of lower Manhattan on the last Saturday of summer. Four days before, two gleaming towers of commerce once aimed at the heavens were destroyed there. Like other survivors, Green made his way back to glimpse what remained. Grim men were gently removing twisted steel from a six-story pile of debris. Acrid smoke emanated from buried fires. Below lay perhaps 6,000 dead. As general counsel for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Green is the chief lawyer for the vertical city that was once the World Trade Center. On Sept. 11, the complex became the center of his practice. “I went there to see the site, to survey the damage,” Green, 57, says of his trip in his typically raspy, matter-of-fact way. After a pause, a catch in his voice, he adds that he had also hoped the pilgrimage would “bring some personal closure … which I’m not sure will ever come.” Unlike most lawyers who survived the Sept. 11 attack, Green cannot move on. As others rebuild from branch offices in Long Island, New Jersey and midtown Manhattan, Green and his 75 assistants must not only continue the work associated with the Port Authority’s other installations, but, most painfully, oversee the recovery effort and deal with what may be years of civil litigation. RUNNING TOWARD HELL Green lives in Pearl River, N.Y., a leafy suburb 30 miles northwest of Manhattan. On that Tuesday morning, he was driving down the West Side Highway when the first plane hit 1 World Trade Center, the 110-story north tower, not far above his 66th-floor offices. As he pulled onto Vesey Street across from the burning building and parked his car, the second plane hit the south tower. His goal was to reach the nearby Marriott Hotel, the emergency assembling point for senior Port Authority staff, Green says. “I couldn’t get near the hotel because of things falling from the building,” he says. “As it turns out, the staff did go to the Marriott. When tower two came down, they were buried under debris and had to dig their way out.” Green grabbed a Port Authority police chief and was headed for the police desk at 5 World Trade Center when he “heard a very, very loud noise, like a plane roaring overhead.” The south tower was collapsing. “We jumped into a truck dock at 7 World Trade Center with 40 or 50 other people and crowded into a very small room,” says Green. “The entrance to the truck dock was totally covered with debris. There was one small area we were able to escape through.” With only the north tower standing, Green clambered out of the truck dock and made his way to a mobile police command center. Within minutes, the north tower buckled and fell, piling debris on the command center. “Everything went black,” says Green. “We didn’t know whether we were buried alive.” As the clouds of pulverized concrete dissipated, Green was able to rendezvous with other Port Authority staff at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, which connects Manhattan to New Jersey. They then moved to the Port Authority’s emergency command post at the other end of the tunnel, in Jersey City. It has become the agency’s new headquarters. SURVIVING BY WORKING The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was established in 1921 to administer the ports of the two states. It has since grown to control 31 facilities, including most of the major bridges, tunnels, bus stations, seaports and airports in the metropolitan area. It also operates facilities such as the World Trade Center, which was completed by the agency in 1977. Green began at the Port Authority in the 1960s as a computer programmer, attending New York University School of Law at night. When he graduated in 1969, he joined the agency’s law department, eventually becoming general counsel. Speaking from his new offices in Jersey City, N.J., Green says that before Sept. 11, the World Trade Center was “a very small part of Port Authority practice.” Nearby, the Holland Tunnel, usually filled with commuters driving to and from Manhattan, is closed to all but emergency vehicles. Across the Hudson, where the twin towers once stood, an empty space in the skyline is all that remains, eerily lit at night by the lights of workers searching the rubble. Legal issues pertaining to the World Trade Center were a small part of Green’s work before Sept. 11. But its destruction has made it the biggest, likely for some time to come. From the moment he made it to safety until the day he returned to the site, Green spent his waking hours checking on his staff (five didn’t survive), manning an emergency operations center and finding new offices. With malfunctioning phones and without computers or research facilities, his department slowly began the process of getting back to work. “We needed to secure temporary space, which means we need leases; we need to enter into all forms of contracts with regard to the recovery effort,” Green says. With his assistants installed in a Port Authority office building in nearby Newark, N.J., his legal staff got back to work despite missing two lawyers, two members of the support staff and Green’s secretary. A total of 69 other Port Authority employees have not been found, out of 2,000 Port Authority employees at the World Trade Center. “The staff has been badly scarred,” but “you cope, and to some degree, it’s a lot easier to be dealing with trauma by working,” Green says. “Adrenaline goes a long way, and quite frankly, we’ve all been operating on a lot of adrenaline and very little sleep. I can’t imagine what it would be like to stay home and watch it 24 hours a day on television — it would probably tear me up a lot more.” Missing from Green’s department are attorneys Richard A. Aaron and Dwight D. Darcy, law secretary Margaret Lewis, paralegal Lewis Williams and corporate secretary Daniel Bergstein. Of his department’s 12 sections, he says, “Our real estate, leasing and environmental divisions have all been up and running. Our contracts division has been providing advice and counsel on matters related to the recovery. The one exception is litigation, where we are primarily focused … on rebuilding” files. Robert G. Koen, a real estate partner at the New York office of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, called the situation facing the Port Authority’s legal department a nightmare. “They are facing three to five years of work and lots of outside counsel,” Koen says. “It’s just something that doesn’t happen.” THREE MAJOR ISSUES Insurance law expert Joseph Calamari, a professor at New York’s St. John’s University School of Law, says the three major issues facing Green’s law department, and by extension other law firms dealing with cases stemming from the attack, involve business interruption insurance, life insurance and disability claims. Green declined to outline the specifics of his legal strategy beyond saying that his staff has been meeting with both the leaseholders of the World Trade Center and various insurers. Koen says that, in such a disaster, “the first thing you do is a total document review, a total insurance review and a total debt review. The real fight will be over whether there were adequate insurance proceeds, whether they were fully insured past the debt and what rights the lenders have.” The complex serves as collateral for nearly $1 billion in bonds. Given the political dynamic overlaying the disaster, all of the parties will be under tremendous pressure to avoid litigation and “go outside the documents to make it work,” Koen says. Green says the current focus of his department is the recovery effort, but he is already planning his next steps. “We will need to deal with a host of legal issues surrounding what is ultimately built on the World Trade Center site, the distribution of the available insurance proceeds and the effect of the terrorist acts on other Port Authority businesses,” he says. He declines to address the prospect of litigation stemming from the attack. He says, “In America today plaintiffs’ lawyers can be quite inventive … but this is a tragic event caused by terrorists.” Green was at the center when Arab terrorists drove a bomb into its basement in 1993. In what may be a harbinger of the duration of lawsuits to come, his office is still handling cases stemming from that attack. Legislation passed by Congress to protect U.S. airlines from bankruptcy will help protect the Port Authority from lawsuits, experts say. Under that package, victims on the ground or in the towers may have their claims judged by a special master, and paid by the federal government, in return for relinquishing their right to sue anybody in connection with the attack. Some survivors, including some lawyers, have charged that stairwell doors were locked and that security staff gave bad advice during the attack. Such incidents could spur some people to forego a settlement and sue anyway. “When they start telling people to go back to work, you’ve got a problem.” says a New York attorney who requested anonymity. He was referring to charges that trade center workers were told to stay in their offices rather than flee the building. Green says that he is unaware of allegations made by some tenants, and reported in the press, of “faulty announcements or locked stairwell doors.” The Port Authority’s leaseholders, Silverstein Properties Inc. and Westfield America Inc., were “following safety measures that had originally been put in place by the Port Authority,” Green says, adding that “obviously nothing can prevent irresponsible attorneys from bringing litigation, even though these tragic terrorist acts were clearly not preventable by the building operators.” The attorney notes, however, that plaintiffs’ lawyers would be smart to wait a few months to file suit so as to avoid appearing insensitive to the scope of the tragedy. Currently, Green says he is close to finishing real estate deals for new office space. When asked if steps such as these were making life more bearable, he responds with a wry laugh. “Ask me in six months.” he says.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.