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The Heirs of Max Bialystock

February 25, 2011

Undoubtedly, the mental gymnasts of NBBL will be able to justify their pro bono representation somehow, and there’s no need for me to point out why it’s absurd that a white shoe law firm would take up their case on the merits alone.  Instead, I urge you to read this excellent piece of reporting from Streetsblog if you haven’t already.

In addition to the in-depth analysis and sourcing from various pro bono experts, you’ll find this little tidbit of information:

The group’s membership form [PDF], which solicits donations to help pay for “incidental costs of our litigation expenses,” instructs donors to send their non-tax deductible contributions to 9 Prospect Park West, PHA — the penthouse apartment in one of the most exclusive addresses in Brooklyn.

A co-op apartment in 9 Prospect Park West recently sold for $3.2 million dollars, with $3600 per month in maintenance fees. The penthouse apartment, one can safely assume, must command a higher price than that. To repeat: According to its membership form, the group receiving free legal services from Jim Walden and Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher is headquartered in an apartment likely worth several million dollars.

I’m no expert in the definitions of and limits to pro bono representation, and I’d love for someone to explain what kind of incidental expenses a pro bono client could incur.  But I also wonder how a group headquartered at this exclusive address and headed by some of the most powerful, wealthy, and well-connected people in the city can’t afford money for photocopies and stamps.

What’s most galling to me is that while the primary members of NBBL are indeed quite wealthy, I’m sure there are more than a few well-meaning but misinformed Brooklyn residents who have sent in checks who aren’t of means.  I’m not saying NBBL is pocketing money hand over fist this way, but considering the likely age of such donors and to whom the money is going, Steisel, Hainline, Weinshall and co. are almost literally taking money from little old ladies.

It is their right to use political connections and wealth to advance their cause, however unpopular it is.  But when a group of millionaires request donations to cover their costs, it’s just more evidence of the true moral character of these so-called “neighbors.”

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