New York's Most Obnoxious Lawyer

Do we have to pick just one? Kenny Heller won't admit it, but he could make a case for the title if he hadn't been disbarred—for obnoxious behavior.

There's nothing for the judge and attorneys in the Emanuel case to do now except see whether Heller will turn over the files or go back to jail for a longer term.

Don't count on seeing the files. When Heller emerged on February 27 from his night in jail, he looked none the worse for wear and proclaimed, "Didn't bother me. It was as good as some hotels I've stayed in."

And he doesn't seem likely to give up his tales of persecution. He's woven a history of his own life that revolves around age-old conspiracies sprinkled liberally throughout his flurry of court motions.

Serving a suspendered sentence: Heller raises hell as deputies try to corral him last month outside a Bronx courtroom.
photo: Kenneth Heller
Serving a suspendered sentence: Heller raises hell as deputies try to corral him last month outside a Bronx courtroom.

Back in law school more than 50 years ago, he says, he feuded with classmate Francis Timothy Murphy about the Jews' conversion of Palestine into Israel. The two almost came to blows, says Heller. (In one motion, he claimed to have punched Murphy.) As Heller tells it, it was his bad luck that Murphy was elected way back then to the Supreme Court and then spent two decades as a presiding appellate judge. Heller has claimed in motions that Murphy used his influence to sabotage Heller's big-money verdicts.

After Murphy, who declined to comment for this article, retired nearly a decade ago, Heller focused on new archenemies, including the state's chief judge, Judith Kaye, and Supreme Court judges Jacqueline Silbermann and Kornreich, who he insists in motions have acted with "favoritism and cronyism for the clients of my adversary or of Proskauer Rose LLP." Proskauer Rose, one of the biggest law firms in the city, has represented some of the companies Heller has sued over the years. Kaye's deceased husband was a partner there and Kornreich's husband is a current partner. In Heller's mind it all fits together.

Ed Hayes admits that in Heller's heyday, "the place was for sale," but thinks his friend is off base now. "Basically, right now," says Hayes, "we have an honest, competent judiciary."

Heller says that's bull, adding, "They're just better at hiding it now."

You won't convince Kenny Heller of that. He calls his current dispute over the files a "railroad job." His is the one true path. "Mr. Heller views his practice as a 'crusade' against corporations that would seek to take advantage of the poverty and illiteracy of many of his clients, who have all suffered severe injuries at sea or in airplane catastrophes," wrote his attorney Robert Sokolski in Heller's failed appeal of his disbarment. "Mr. Heller considers himself a sword and a shield."

Or maybe it's just a cloak. Nassar, the psychiatrist, believes Heller took on these types of cases and presented himself as a crusader as "a way to justify doing anything he wants to do."

Heller recently tried to persuade Ed Hayes to get involved in the Emanuel case on his behalf. But Hayes says he told him, "There's two things that you have to do for me to be your lawyer: Pay and do what I say. You're not going to do either, so find someone else."

And he says he also gave Heller some advice: "I said, 'Kenny, look, you're an older man, you've got money. If you have the records you've got to turn them over . . . they'll put you in jail and you won't survive it.' I told him, 'This is a death case for you. You're going to die for contempt.'"

« Previous Page