A Judge Dismisses Writer's Suit Over Payments

The New York Times 10 March 2003
Terry Pristin

State Supreme Court justice in Manhattan has dismissed a lawsuit by a New York writer who sought $6.8 million in finder's fees for helping the family of the Parisian art dealer Paul Rosenberg recover paintings by Matisse, Monet, Léger and Bonnard that had been stolen by the Nazis.

The writer, Hector Feliciano, created an international sensation with his 1994 book, "The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World's Greatest Works of Art," which focused attention on the missing artworks. In a July, 2001, lawsuit that startled many in the art world, Mr. Feliciano contended that Elaine Rosenberg, the widow of Mr. Rosenberg's son, Alexandre, repeatedly made oral promises to compensate him for tracking down paintings that were returned to the family in recent years.

Mr. Feliciano maintained that he was entitled to 17.5 percent of the estimated $39 million value of the paintings, an amount he said was "consistent with the standard art recovery fee of the industry."

Mrs. Rosenberg denied she had an oral contract with Mr. Feliciano and said he had not been responsible for recovering the paintings.

Last month, Justice Charles E. Ramos dismissed the case at the request of Mr. Feliciano's lawyer, Michael Dowd. On Feb. 14, just as Mr. Feliciano was about to begin a third straight day of being deposed, Mr. Dowd made a request to have the case thrown out.

Mr. Dowd maintained that Mr. Feliciano's previous lawyers had mishandled the case, but Mrs. Rosenberg's lawyer claimed victory. "It is Mrs. Rosenberg's belief," said the lawyer, Jeffrey Barist, "that the case was dismissed because it was totally without merit, as she has been saying since the day it was filed."

Mr. Feliciano's claim was widely criticized by art world experts, who said that art recovery is a complicated process for which no one person can claim credit.

Constance Lowenthal, a consultant on art ownership disputes who is based in New York, said she knew of no standard fee for recovering artworks, other than a fee of up to 10 percent given by Lloyd's of London for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the art thief.

Mr. Feliciano replaced his legal team in February. Mr. Dowd blamed the failure of the case on his predecessors, saying they had missed all their deadlines to produce documents requested by Mrs. Rosenberg's lawyers. In January, Justice Ramos issued an order saying that Mr. Feliciano had waived his right to depose witnesses or get documents from the other side.

Mr. Dowd said that without other testimony or documents, he had no case. "It became clearer and clearer to me," he said, "that we were going no place. Without any discovery there wasn't anything to corroborate our position." He said that Mr. Feliciano would not comment on the dismissal.
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