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The Abner Louima police brutality case resurfaced in federal court Wednesday, as attorneys disputed the distribution of nearly $3 million in attorney fees amid accusations of slipshod lawyering, client poaching and greed. Johnnie L. Cochran, Peter Neufeld and Barry S. Scheck have filed a motion to prevent Louima’s first two lawyers — Carl W. Thomas and Brian Figeroux — from receiving any portion of the fees associated with the record $8.75 million settlement Louima received from New York City. The team of lawyers, who represented O.J. Simpson, began working on Louima’s case in 1997, two weeks after Louima, a Haitian immigrant, was sodomized by officer Justin Volpe in a station house bathroom. They contend that Thomas, who died last year of a heart attack at the age of 41, and Figeroux quit the case and were not entitled to compensation. They also argue that the two attorneys violated ethical obligations by leaking privileged details to the press, including that Louima had lied when he said an officer exclaimed, “It’s Giuliani time” as Louima’s torture with a broken stick began. But attorneys representing Figeroux and the estate of Thomas counter that Cochran, Neufeld and Scheck forced their clients from the case because they could not stand to share the spotlight with “local” lawyers who were the only ones willing to respond to pleas from Louima’s family after the attack. The two Brooklyn lawyers had done the “lion’s share” of the work that resulted in Louima’s record settlement, the attorneys said. “This case isn’t about ethical violations,” said Bradley D. Simon, a former federal prosecutor who is representing Thomas’ family, in opening arguments. “It’s about greed and arrogance.” Simon further alleged that through conversations with attorneys for former police officer Thomas Wiese, Louima’s “dream team” of lawyers “came close to severely compromising the government’s [criminal] case.” Michael S. Ross, who is representing Cochran, said Cochran had offered to settle the dispute with Thomas’ family for a six-figure sum, reportedly $200,000. Thomas’ wife, who has four children, has rejected that settlement offer, Ross said. Thomas and Figeroux originally had agreed to accept a third of the legal fees, which would not exceed a third of what Louima could recover in a civil suit. Sanford A. Rubenstein, another attorney who had a separate agreement with Louima, would receive another third, and the remaining third would go to Cochran, Neufeld and Scheck. Under the original agreement, Thomas and Figeroux would receive about $500,000 each. The racial tensions in the fee dispute became apparent early on Wednesday, the first day in a trial scheduled to last the rest of the week. Taking the witness stand, Scheck said that Cochran had asked him and Neufeld to join the case after Cochran had been contacted by Louima’s family. At an initial meeting to discuss how the lawyers would proceed, Scheck said, Figeroux became upset when Scheck took out a laptop computer to take notes. “Close [your] f–king laptop computer,” Scheck said Figeroux shouted. “What are you trying, to intimidate me with your technology?” At a meeting where Cochran was present, Scheck said, Thomas attacked Cochran, calling him an “Uncle Tom” and saying, “Why are you practicing with these two Jew lawyers? You should be practicing with us because we represent the community.” Cochran responded, “I was black before you were born,” Scheck said. Thomas, who is black, and Figeroux, who is from Trinidad, had been partners in Brooklyn and began representing Louima when he was still hospitalized and facing charges that he resisted arrest the night of the attack. Scheck rejected the idea that Thomas and Figeroux had done the lion’s share of the work on Louima’s case, saying, “They did very little work, frankly.” He also said that allegations of ethical differences between the two groups of lawyers, which became the focus of numerous newspaper articles after Thomas and Figeroux had left the case, were false and had never been raised. Much of Scheck’s testimony centered on Louima’s now-infamous statement in a press conference that an officer had said, “It’s Giuliani time” during the attack. Scheck said the trouble began when a federal prosecutor told him that Louima had admitted that the Giuliani comment was a fabrication. Scheck said he was asked to investigate the matter and eventually learned that a family friend had told Louima to make the statement to ensure the public paid attention to the case. He also learned that Figeroux was the first to reveal the “Giuliani time” remark, which he did in a press conference after receiving a note from Louima’s brother Jonas. Louima made the allegation again the next day in a press conference. Scheck said Figeroux did not deny that he made the statement after receiving the note, but expressed fear that he was being set up to take a fall because of his statements. Scheck said he told Figeroux that the statement constituted a serious error that federal prosecutors feared could send Louima’s case “off the rails,” but that he did not think Figeroux would face any consequences. Under cross-examination, Scheck described Figeroux’s actions as “the height of irresponsibility” because he did not question Louima closely about the truth of the allegation before revealing it to the press. The falsity of the “Giuliani time” remark was later revealed in The Village Voice, to the dismay of Louima, Scheck said. Scheck said that Louima believed Thomas and Figeroux might be the source of that article. At a meeting soon after the confrontation with Figeroux, Scheck said, Thomas, followed by Figeroux, stormed out of an office and said they were quitting the case. “I was stunned,” Scheck said. Scheck said that steady leaks to the press continued, resulting in stories about dissension among the teams of lawyers and Louima’s crumbling “dream team.” Louima and his remaining lawyers had asked Thomas and Figeroux to refrain from speaking to the press about confidential details, Scheck said, but never received a reply. CROSS-EXAMINATION During cross-examination late Wednesday afternoon, Thomas A. Kissane, who is representing Figeroux, and Simon questioned Scheck about meetings he and fellow attorneys had with lawyers representing Wiese, a former police officer later charged in the criminal case. Scheck said that Thomas and Figeroux were not informed about the meetings, where, in what Scheck said was a surprise, Wiese’s attorneys discussed statements Wiese had made to investigators. Simon continued the cross-examination by delving into the independent investigations by the three lawyers that Thomas and Figeroux claim interfered with the case. The three-day bench trial before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak of the Eastern District of New York is expected to include testimony from the lawyers, Louima and Alan Vinegrad, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District.

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