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Judge approves extra legal fees for lawyer who sued Wilfs

Posted by: Jim Spencer Updated: December 16, 2013 - 6:13 PM

MIDDLETOWN, N.J. - A New Jersey state judge on Monday approved $1.2 million in extra legal fees for a lawyer who took on the uber rich Wilf family in a law suit that exposed widespread wrongdoing in the clan's real estate empire.

Josef Halpern and his sister Ada Reichmann sued Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, and their cousin, Leonard Wilf, for fraud in the operation of a large apartment complex they owned together outside New York City.

"The defendants in this case have very large means," Judge Deanne Wilson noted.

Halpern and Reichmann face a legal battle that is being "fought rock to rock and tree to tree," the judge said.  The Wilfs "could simply outlast Halpern if he didn’t have an attorney who would take the case on a contingency basis."

Lawyer Alan Lebensfeld's decision to only collect a relatively small  monthly retainer from Halpern while the Wilfs pour millions into fighting the suit is still a risk, Wilson said. In September, the judge awarded Halpern and Reichmann $84.5 million in damages. However,  the Wilfs' legal team will appeal virtually every portion of her ruling, including an order to make public the Wilfs' personal wealth. The appeals could stretch the 21-year-old case out for months if not years..

"There is a long road to go before Mr. Lebensfeld collects anything except for the modest monthly payment," Wilson explained as she agreed with a consultant's recommendation that Lebensfeld be awarded roughly $5 million in basic fees and $1.2 million in what are called "enhanced fees.". 

On Monday, Wilson also ruled that Halpern and Reichann must still receive certain distributions from the Rachel Gardens apartment complex that is the center of the lawsuit. The complex will also have to segregate rent collections from other payments. Wilson has structured her order in a way that the complex will  be sold and its proceeds divided among the partners. Halpern and Reichmann each have a quarter share valued at $20 million to $25 million. 

This week's hearings at the Morris County Courthouse are in antitcipation of a final order expected by Friday. That order should determine the exact amounts of legal fees, interest and other expenses the Wilfs must pay along with damages. With the total approaching $100 million, Zygi and Mark Wilf have sought to assure the state of Minnesota that they have enough money to pay their judgments and still have enough to finance their portion of a new Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

Statements of personal wealth the Wilfs submitted to Wilson as part of the New Jersey real estate case remain sealed. The Wilfs' lawyers have employed a number of legal strategies to keep the numbers from becoming public, even though Wilson believes they should be. 

The latest tactic on which the judge should rule by week's end is an attempt to stop the imposition of any judgment and the release of any personal financial information until all court appeals are exhausted. In return, the Wilfs may be asked to put up a bond worth at least as much as they owe in fines and fees. 

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