Illinois man sues attorney representing bombing victims

Sunday, July 28, 2002

OKLAHOMA CITY -- An Illinois man has sued a St. Louis attorney who was helping Oklahoma City bombing victims become eligible for a victims compensation fund being set up in Congress.

Jim Helenthal accused Charles E. Polk Jr. of persuading him to invest nearly $500,000 to sign up those who wanted to pursue a class action lawsuit or federal legislation granting them access to money set aside after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Polk allegedly promised Helenthal, of Quincy, 45 percent of the attorneys fees from each client who received compensation, according to a copyright story Saturday in The Daily Oklahoman.

Helenthal said in the lawsuit that he signed up more than 100 people with the group, Fairness for OKC.

The arrangements fell apart two weeks ago, and Helenthal is seeking to recover the money he said he invested in the venture. He also wants damages for alleged harm done to his business, his reputation and his health.

Helenthal's attorney, James Hullverson Jr., filed the lawsuit in St. Louis County on Thursday, The Oklahoman reported.

In a statement released Friday, Polk said the joint venture signed with Helenthal was for lobbying efforts. Polk called Helenthal's complaint "a legal fiction" and said he filed a lawsuit against Helenthal in Washington D.C.

Polk and attorney Doug Dowd entered agreements with some of the bombing victims that would give the lawyers a percentage of any federal compensation they received.

The first agreements signed with Fairness for OKC called for victims to pay 25 percent of whatever compensation they received. After that arrangement became public and was criticized, the attorneys drafted a new agreement with a 10 percent contingency fee.

Under the agreements, the victims would have to pay fees to the attorneys if Congress passed legislation to make them eligible for the federal fund. The attorneys said they were lobbying for the legislation but would file a class action lawsuit if necessary.

Dowd withdrew from the agreements two weeks ago, saying he learned Polk had an agreement with a non-attorney to solicit clients and share fees. Dowd said he reported Polk to the Missouri Bar because such arrangements with non-lawyers aren't allowed.

According to Helenthal's lawsuit, Polk had been representing him in an anti-trust case involving his newspaper, the Tri-State Shopper in Quincy.

He alleges Polk proposed in March that Helenthal finance an effort to sign up Oklahoma City victims for representation.

According to the lawsuit, Polk told Helenthal he would have to invest money, time and effort "and that the risk was worth the potential gain considering the NYC World Trade Center victims were expected to be awarded $1.8 million per person" and there were 168 Oklahoma City bombing deaths and several hundred injured.

The two men signed a confidential agreement.

According to Helenthal, Polk told him to write a check for $132,000 to Polk's wife, which he did. And Helenthal claims he paid another $250,000 to Polk.

Helenthal also claimed that he leased cars for Polk, paid expenses for the venture and contributed money to a Washington D.C. organization of which Polk is a board member.

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