Judge Bars Silverstein from WTC Trial over Remarks

March 22, 2004

Judge Michael Mukasey has come down hard on Larry Silverstein, barring him from attending the current trial over the amount of recovery for the destruction of the World Trade Center, after he reportedly violated the judge’s order to refrain from making inflammatory comments to the media while the trial is in progress.

According to reports from Reuters and other news sources, Silverstein attacked the insurance companies at a public event last week for failing to pay his company, Silverstein Properties, the WTC master leaseholder, the full amount of the claims, approximately $7.2 billion.

Judge Mukasey originally issued the order in an effort to keep the jury, which is hearing the first of a possible three trials in the case, from considering how much money may be required to rebuild the WTC site. He has ruled that this is not a proper subject for their consideration, and was concerned that outside comments about it would improperly influence their decision, providing grounds for an appeal. He subsequently modified the order to allow comments to the media on certain specific points raised during the trial. Silverstein, however, apparently went too far.

Reuters quoted Silverstein as saying, “We’re trying to get them [the insurance companies] to fulfill the responsibilities that we paid for when we paid the premiums on the policies. Instead of getting insurance we’ve got ourselves a massive amount of litigation.” Judge Mukasey has scheduled a hearing today, at which Silverstein will be asked to explain why he shouldn’t be found in contempt for disregarded the judge’s order.

Silverstein explained that he was under the impression that the judge’s order restricting comments to the media had been lifted, and his attorney argued that the Judge’s order had not been sufficiently clear to cover the remarks their client made. They also indicated that if he’s found in contempt it could be prejudicial to the jury.

Judge Mukasey is therefore faced with a real dilemma. It’s fairly clear that whichever side loses the case, there will be appeals. Citing Silverstein for contempt could provide yet another avenue for a lengthy appeals process on a side issue, that really has nothing to do with the central question of the amount of the recovery. On the other hand if he doesn’t enforce his own order, he runs the risk that the charges and countercharges which have poisoned relations between the litigants, and made any settlement seem unreachable, will recommence.

The insurers also stirred the pot with their request that they be compensated for legal fees for the contempt hearing and that Silverstein should be fined $1,000,000 if he makes any more derogatory comments concerning the lawsuit.

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