Senator Don Nickles delaying bill to include OKC victims

Thursday, June 13th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ U.S. Sen. Don Nickles has decided to delay legislation that would make Oklahoma City bombing victims eligible for federal compensation, according to a published report.

Nickles, R-Okla., had been working to get Oklahomans included in a fund set up to compensate victims of terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks on the East Coast.

But after learning that a group of victims of the 1995 bombing were being helped by a St. Louis law firm, Nickles said he wants to ensure that the money doesn't go to attorneys.

``I don't want these families victimized twice _ once by the bombing and again by any attorneys or lobbyists charging unreasonable fees of 25 to 30 percent of the payments we intend to go solely to the victims or their families,'' Nickles told the Tulsa World.

``The legislation adding the Oklahoma City victims did not come about as the result of any action by lobbyists or outside attorneys. Families do not need to sign up with a lawyer or lobbyist to receive these funds.''

Nickles was described as being furious when he found about the involvement of Dowd and Dowd, a St. Louis law firm.

The law firm could not be immediately reached for comment.

The legislation by Nickles and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was to be taken up Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Nickles said he will use a one-week delay to address his concerns.

Kathleen Treanor, whose 4-year-old daughter and in-laws died in the April 19, 1995, bombing dismissed Nickles' concerns that the Oklahoma City families are being victimized by lawyers.

``I don't think so,'' Treanor, of Guthrie, said. ``Nickles would be well-advised not to delay this. He is just hurting us some more. The longer he delays this, the longer we have to wait.''

Treanor said the law firm initially had considered a class-action lawsuit against the federal government. That is why it was asking for participants to pledge 25 percent of whatever they received, she said.

If the compensation passes legislatively, she said, the firm has agreed to reduce its fees to 10 percent.

She added that lawyers are helping victims of the terrorist attacks in New York City with the 30-page document they have to fill out.

``Unless you have your duckies in a row, forget it. You are not going to maximize your benefits,'' she said.

The families might never have turned to attorneys if the Oklahoma congressional delegation had been more responsive to them, Treanor said.

``Nobody stepped forward for us until we sought attorneys,'' Treanor said.

She said members of the Oklahoma delegation should have stood up for the Oklahoma City victims last year when Congress was passing the compensation fund.

Nickles said the American Trial Lawyers Association previously agreed to help victims fill out paper work on a pro bono basis.

Treanor said nearly 150 of the Oklahoma City families have retained that attorney's firm.

Money from the fund set up after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will be allocated under a formula that considers factors such as lost wages and the value of private insurance coverage.

Eligible victims could get at least $250,000.