By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The city's most obnoxious lawyer has apparently become the most elusive.
On May 21, a squad of city sheriff's officers descended on 299 Broadway to arrest 77-year-old disbarred lawyer Kenny Heller ("New York's Most Obnoxious Lawyer," April 1824) on a warrant charging contempt of court. However, Heller's office was empty, and the officers were told that he had been evicted and was at 401 Broadway. But when they got there, they found some of Heller's longtime workers, but no Heller. Efforts to locate the cranky, elderly lawyer have been unsuccessful. Here's a clue: His wife lives in Brazil.
For Heller, it's just another in a long line of fuck-you's he has doled out. For the past three years, Heller has defied several judges who have ordered him to turn over his files in connection with a wrongful-death suit in which he won a nearly $25 million verdict in 1999 for Ruby Emanuel, whose ship-rigger husband died in a Brooklyn Navy Yard accident.
That verdict was overturned on appeal, but by the time the case came up for retrial five years later, Heller had been disbarrednot for being crooked or incompetent, but for having what the Appellate Division's First Department called "an utter contempt for the judicial system," characterized by "consistent, reprehensible, unprofessional behavior, which has included screaming at, threatening, and disparaging judges, adversaries, and experts."
When Ruby Emanuel hired lawyers from Jacoby & Meyers to replace him, Heller proved the Appellate Division right by refusing to turn over his case files until the new lawyers agreed to pay him a "fixed" fee for past work. His price moved from an initial demand of about $2 mil- lion to $12 million. The J&M lawyers, who took the Emanuel case on a contingency basis, understandably balked.
But here's the catch: The attorneys for the ship owners lost their files on the case when one of the 9/11 airplanes crashed into their World Trade Center offices. So the only chance of getting the case moving again is to force Heller to fork over his files.
On February 26, Justice Howard Silver tried to do that by ordering Heller jailed for one night for contempt of court. The cantankerous Heller emerged from the hoosegow crustier than ever, filing an appeal of the judge's contempt order and promptly suing Ruby Emanuel for $25 million, ostensibly for having him wrongfully arrested. A judge threw out that suit in record time, and Heller's appeal of Silver's contempt order was denied two weeks ago. Seemingly out of options, Heller has again thwarted the system by pulling a Houdini.
"I don't want to have this guy arrested," says J&M attorney Michael Feldman. "I just want that file. I've got other things to do than look for Kenny Heller."