9-11 Widow Triumphs in N.H. Court; Allowed to Keep Her Trusted Lawyer
By Mark Anderson
ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.H. Courageous 9-11 widow Ellen Mariani has often lamented that she has “no body to bury,” since her deceased husband Louis Neil Mariani’s body was never recovered when he died during the 9-11-01 attacks. According to the government’s disputed account, Neil Mariani, at age 59, died aboard United Airlines Flight 175 when it hit the south tower of the World Trade Center on 9-11-01.
Still saddened by the loss of a spouse she loved so much, Mariani tells friends she needs closure. But she also wants justice. Money alone won’t do. Justice sometimes comes in increments. Consider the New Hampshire Probate Court’s hearing on April 28, held to determine whether to revoke the admission of California attorney Bruce Leichty in the settlement of the estate of Neil Mariani, who was from Derry, N.H.
Since Leichty’s admission was not revoked, he can continue to be Mariani’s counsel. This ruling represents perhaps her first-ever victory in any court case since she became the first widow to refuse the federal payout in 2001. Some say she gave up a $2 million federal bribe to pursue
the truth about the murder of her husband.
Friends of Mrs. Mariani, saying she had an especially tough time finding competent, honest legal representation, say she considers Leichty a straight shooting attorney who will not just help her pursue a fair settlement from her deceased husband’s estate, but also help her stand tall in her quest to find out what really happened to her husband on 9-11.
The estate’s beneficiaries are supposed to be Ellen and her stepdaughter Lauren Peters. While Leichty’s motion to dismiss the attempted revocation of his legal services for the estate was approved by Judge Peter Hurd, the judge did stipulate that neither Mrs. Mariani nor Leichty, as of the conclusion of the April 28 hearing, can talk to the news media about any issues surrounding the estate settlement or about 9-11 in general. That gag order, as clarified during the hearing, first took hold as of Feb. 8 of 2008, when Leichty was first granted pro hac vice (“for this occasion”) admission in the estate case. Anything said to the media prior to that date was deemed to be of no consequence.
The gag order apparently gives no time line as to when it might be lifted. Local attorney Patrick Fleming, accompanying Leichty at the hearing, pointed out to Judge Hurd that nothing in the order’s language prevents attorneys from talking to the media. But Hurd, while he did not quote the order out loud, did not see it that way.
According to Lauren Peters’ legal counsel, Janine Gawryl of Nashua, N.H., Peters sees Mrs. Mariani’s nationally known 9-11 activism as interference in the estate settlement. And when Leichty’s repeated objections, regarding Gawryl’s statements to Judge Hurd, slowly deflated the case Gawryl was trying to make, she took the unusual approach of getting Hurd to allow her to take the stand. Another attorney in the room, the estate administrator, then questioned her. This enabled Gawryl to generally discuss what became “Exhibit 1,” a stack of 159 pages of Internet news articles that were cited as “evidence,” of sorts, to “prove” that Leichty and Mrs. Mariani broke a gag order that at first was dated back to September and December of 2004. But that time frame was voided during the hearing.
Leichty “silenced me on evidentiary rules,” Gawryl stated in court as the hearing sunsetted. She also said that Mariani “wants to use this court as a political forum” and that she has been speaking to the media espousing “conspiracy theories” that might block Peters from getting her settlement and “could cause the federal litigation to come apart.”
Meanwhile, observers allege that Peters borrowed an undisclosed amount of money against what she expects to be a favorable probate settlement in which she receives a sizable portion of the money from her late father’s estate. Peters and Mariani seem to be very much at odds over this whole issue. Peters is said to be highly critical of her stepmother’s 9-11 truth movement activism and wants to settle the estate as quickly as possible in order to pay back the loan she is said to have received against the settlement.
Peters attended the April 28 hearing but evidently cannot talk to the media either. Mariani was among survivors of the 9-11 victims who did not take the federal Victim Compensation Fund payout not long after the “attacks.” This “hush fund,” which paid out millions of dollars, carried the requirement that recipients must not sue the aviation companies, nor any other entity, apparently.
Mariani, as a plaintiff, has two claims in the ongoing litigation: For wrongful death, and loss of spousal consortium. She has spent a lot of her time in federal district court in the Southern District of Manhattan before Judge Alvin Hellerstein, where certain establishment law firms have consolidated the process by pushing various other 9-11 cases into settlements.
Indeed, not a single federal case against the airlines or security companies has gone to trial in New York, as far as can be determined.
Mariani’s claim in federal court has been kicked around for years. And amid claims made by the federal court in 2007 that a federal settlement for
Mariani had been reached—contrary to a tentative AFP report to that effect last September—such a settlement actually was never secured.
Mariani, after a long delay that forced the early afternoon hearing on April 28 to start about 53 minutes late, made a conference call to the courtroom so she could listen to the proceedings. An attempt by Peters’ attorney to put Mariani “on the stand,” even though the widow called in from Colorado and could not physically do so, was rebuffed by Judge Hurd, who said he cannot allow the questioning of witnesses who are not there in person.
Mark Anderson is the author of The Ron Paul Revolution, AFP’s special report we are encouraging everyone to distribute. For more on how you can help Ron Paul make a stand, click here. Mark can be reached at email@example.com
(Issue # 19, May 12, 2008)