The Work

December 22, 2008 6:35 PM

Four Am Law 200 Firms on Deutsche Bank Fire Criminal Case

Posted by Brian Baxter

Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau unveiled indictments on Monday against a construction company and three supervisors stemming from the deaths of two New York firefighters in a 2007 blaze at an abandoned Ground Zero office building.

Hughes Hubbard & Reed litigation heavyweight Edward Little has been retained by Jeffrey Melofchik, a site safety supervisor for Bovis Lend Lease, a London-based construction management firm hired to deconstruct the Deutsche Bank Building in downtown Manhattan.

The Am Law Daily reported in August on civil litigation surrounding the fateful August 18, 2007 fire at the 41-story ruin, which once housed the U.S. headquarters of the German bank of the same name until the building suffered catastrophic damage on 9/11.

Started by a discarded cigarette, the five-alarm fire claimed the lives of Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino and exposed serious problems--including deconstruction delays, insurance snafus, cost overruns, and bureaucratic infighting--that had plagued the dismantling of the building in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the state agency that hired Bovis to take down the building, tapped Dechert's Andrew Levander to represent it in Morgenthau's criminal investigation. The City of New York, meanwhile, retained Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel's Gary Naftalis to conduct its own inquiry into the fatal blaze.

The New York Times reported in August that Morgenthau was considering the extremely rare step of filing criminal charges against city agencies for their alleged failure to perform adequate inspections of the decrepit skyscraper during its staged demolition.

On Monday, Morgenthau revealed that his office had reached nonprosecution agreements with the city and Bovis--represented by Naftalis and Latham & Watkins white-collar and government investigations partner Kenneth Conboy, respectively--to institute "major remedial [fire] safety measures" to prevent future incidents at high-rise deconstruction sites.

"The investigation into the fire at the Deutsche Bank Building has been one of the most complex we have ever conducted," Morgenthau said in a press release. "Over the last 16 months we have interviewed more than 150 people, subpoenaed and examined over three million documents, and presented more than 80 witnesses to a grand jury; the transcript of that testimony is more than 6,500 pages long."

It will now fall to Little and other defense lawyers to sift through that record.

Also indicted on manslaughter and related charges were Bronx, N.Y.-based John Galt Corporation, a demolition subcontractor hired by Bovis to help in the Deutsche Bank deconstruction, and former Galt project supervisor Mitchel Alvo and crew supervisor Salvatore DePaola.

Peter Driscoll of New York's Driscoll & Redlich is representing John Galt, and Susan Hoffinger of New York's Hoffinger Stern & Ross has been retained by Alvo. Solo practitioner Rick Pasacreta, a former chief of the special case unit in the Staten Island district attorney's office, is representing DePaola.

Little, who told The Am Law Daily that a "personal connection" referred him to Melofchik, declined further comment but said in a statement that his client is being unfairly singled out when supervisory agencies failed to do their jobs.

"[Morgenthau's] reluctance or inability to indict federal and city agencies for their malfeasance is no excuse for making [Melofchik], the lone safety supervisor, a scapegoat for these unfortunate circumstances," said Little in his statement. "[Morgenthau] himself admitted that the fire was a perfect storm, and that everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. The real responsibility here belongs to federal agencies, city agencies, and even the [FDNY] itself, as Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg has also admitted."

Patrick Dugan, chief of the investigation division, and Eric Seidel, chief of the rackets bureau, are handling the case for the district attorney's office along with assistant district attorneys Brian Fields and Noah Genel.

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