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While the New York Police & Fire Widows’ & Children’s Benefit Fund plans to disburse all of its Sept. 11 collections, the New York City firefighters union — the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) — had decided to hold on to most of its donations. That is, until a group of families of 80 firefighters who died on Sept. 11 called upon Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher litigation partner Randy Mastro. In April, Mastro — a deputy mayor of New York City under Rudolph Giuliani — took the families’ case on a pro bono basis. The families opposed the union’s plan to disburse only about $10 million of the $70 million in donations it had collected after Sept. 11. The union had given $20,000 to all surviving spouses of firefighters, whether they died on Sept. 11 or in other accidents, and planned on giving $3,000 annually to surviving spouses and surviving children until they reach age 24, at which time the children would receive a lump sum of $40,000. No money was given to the families of unmarried firefighters. According to UFA counsel Michael Block of Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo, this plan was in line with the purpose of the union’s fund, which is to assist dependent survivors of firefighters. But Block says that, through mediation with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office, the UFA has decided to meet the families’ requests and reconfigure the distribution. In July the union announced that it would distribute 90 percent of its funds immediately — with $50,000 going to the family of each firefighter killed on Sept. 11 (only $30,000 would be given to those who had already received $20,000). Surviving children ages 24 and under of firefighters killed in the attacks would receive $38,000 initially and $500 per year thereafter. The families found Mastro after expressing their dissatisfaction with the UFA to Giuliani in April, at a meeting of the Twin Towers Fund, a charity that Giuliani founded while in office. Giuliani gave the families the names of a few attorneys, including Mastro, and the families conducted a beauty contest among the handful of firms. “The decision was unanimous,” says James Riches, whose 29-year-old son James died in the collapse of the towers. “Randy was our man.” Riches describes Mastro as a relentless advocate, “like a little pit bull” in his resolve. “I considered it a public service,” says Mastro. The bottom line, he says, is donor intent: People expected their money to go entirely to the victims’ families, not to be held in a fund for future payouts. Mastro says he was prepared to have the matter go to trial, but was relieved that the union settled it so quickly.

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