Claims for Nazi-Looted Art Have Gloomy Future

Courthouse News Service 7 June 2012

A federal judge cast doubt this week on the latest lawsuit filed by a man who was disbarred after deceiving the court about a nonexistent group with alleged ties to billions of dollars worth of Nazi-looted art.

In the 1990s, Edward Fagan represented thousands of Holocaust survivors and their descendants in lawsuits against Swiss banks that had withheld Nazi money from the Jewish families who laid claim to it. Fagan took credit for an unprecedented $1.25 billion settlement in 1998, but his reputation came into question after some former clients accused Fagan of negligence, fraud and misappropriation of funds.

A Manhattan federal judge upbraided Fagan in 2005 for filing a "frivolous" $6.8 billion lawsuit Fagan against an Austrian bank. The court concluded that the Holocaust survivor group Fagan purported to represent did not actually exist.
Fagan's failure to pay $350,000 in sanctions and attorneys' fees in that case led to his 2008 dismissal from the New York and New Jersey Bars.

More recently, however, Fagan established Victims of Holocaust Art Theft in Boca Raton, Fla., and claims to have bought an interest in the $50 million art collection that Nazi forces allegedly stole from the Poppers, a Jewish Czech family.

He claims to co-own the entity with several individuals who seek restitution in Eastern European countries, including Popper heir Michal Klepetar.

Victims of Holocaust Art Theft sued the Czech Republic and two of its museums to recover the Popper collection in the Southern District of Florida.

Though Fagan signed the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge James Cohn in Fort Lauderdale determined Monday that the ex-attorney likely cannot practice law before his court.

"Based on a review of the complaint and the accompanying civil cover sheet, it is clear that Fagan has filed the complaint as a pro se representative of plaintiff, not as its attorney," Cohn wrote.

In fact, the aforementioned court filings state "that Victims of Holocaust Art Theft is 'a fictitious name registered to Edward D. Fagan' and that plaintiff's attorneys are 'not yet known,'" the three-page ruling states.

Cohn noted that corporations must be represented by licensed attorneys in federal actions, whether they are for-profit enterprises or nonprofit organizations.

"Here, while plaintiff's exact form and nature are not fully clear, the complaint shows that plaintiff is an organization owned and controlled by at least one person (Michal Klepetar) other than Fagan," Cohn wrote. "Moreover, plaintiff seeks to vindicate the interests of Klepetar and other persons in allegedly stolen artwork. Fagan, therefore, may not represent plaintiff on a pro se basis."

The judge threatened to dismiss the action if Victims of Holocaust Art Theft does not obtain legal counsel by July 5.
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