Lawyers seek $1.7 million in fees from Helmsley case

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 22 2003 12:00 AM ET

Lawyers for the gay former Park Lane Hotel manager who won an $11 million gay-bias verdict against real estate billionaire Leona Helmsley filed court papers Thursday asking for almost $1.7 million in legal fees. Charles Bell's lawyer, Geri S. Krauss, said the amount requested reflects the fees incurred under her firm's normal billing practices and includes money spent as a result of the Helmsley lawyers' "obstructionist tactics" before and during trial. Krauss's papers show that the case took two years to prepare and try. Krauss complained that her work was made more difficult than usual because Helmsley fired five sets of lawyers before trial. She asked for $1.55 million in fees and nearly $137,000 in expenses. Krauss also said the city's human rights law allows the plaintiff to ask for legal fees beyond whatever other fee arrangement--a percentage of the jury award, for example--he has with his lawyer.

Nearly three weeks ago, a Manhattan jury found that Helmsley, 82, had abused and then fired Bell, 48, as Park Lane's manager after learning he is gay. The jurors found that she had subjected Bell to a "hostile and abusive work environment." The jurors awarded Bell $1.17 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages. State supreme court justice Walter Tolub has agreed to hear the Helmsley lawyers' motions to set aside the jury's verdict.

Helmsley's lawyers filed papers Wednesday asking the judge to vacate the verdict and give Bell nothing. They said the evidence did not support the verdict and that the jury found that Bell would have been fired anyway for using drugs and lying about his work history. The Helmsley lawyers' motion papers, signed by attorney Steven G. Eckhaus, also faulted the judge for not letting them try to prove that Bell was fired mainly because of his association with Patrick Ward, Helmsley's former chief operating officer. Ward, 47, is the man who Helmsley thought was her boyfriend until she learned he is gay as well; he had hired Bell. Helmsley's lawyers said Ward's "gross deception," not Helmsley's bigotry against gays, led Helmsley to fire Ward and anyone associated with him. Ward later filed a gay-bias lawsuit, which Helmsley settled without a trial.