Letters 1

The Morellos never sought, nor did they need, taxpayers' money. All they wanted was justice, and they had to go a civil route simply to get the facts into court. This sort of blatant abuse of power can happen at any time and to anyone. What have the taxpayers really saved here? What is the life of a healthy, loving, intelligent child worth? How many wrongful-death suits will the taxpayers pay for in years to come?

I applaud New Times for trying to bring out the truth and Jim DeFede for the hard work he brought to the table. I hope that Andrew knows his parents did everything they could. Maybe it will take 60 Minutes to get at it. But if history has proved anything, it is that no matter how deeply buried it may be, the truth will come out.

John R. Miller
Concord, North Carolina

Kurzban Kicks Back
Several weeks ago New Times ran a comprehensive story by Elise Ackerman about the successes and difficulties of the Haitian Refugee Center, an organization I helped to start sixteen years ago ("Perilous Journey," February 8). Subsequently the newspaper printed a letter to the editor with the headline "Kurzban's Cash Cow." At the time, I chose not to respond to it because I am tired of dealing with all the negative, angry, and frustrated people in this wonderfully complex community who may have their own political agendas that include attacking people like me. I also thought that writing a letter would only bring more letters, and I try to put my energy into more constructive work.

However, yesterday my daughter came home from high school, where she was told by one of her classmates (who is not Haitian) that her father had no integrity and was ripping off the Haitian community. I can only assume that he read the letter and got the same misimpression that anyone reading it would get. In essence, the letter suggested that I had helped the Haitian community or Haitian refugees not out of a desire to do good, but because the Haitian government had paid me an amount in excess of $250,000 in a six-month period.

The letter was a complete non sequitur. It supposedly was in response to the New Times article, which recounted the Haitian Refugee Center's history. The article mentioned me as someone who represented the center and Haitian refugees at the United States Supreme Court. During those years, neither I nor any member of my firm took any fees from the Haitian Refugee Center, the Haitian community, or the Haitian government for the millions of dollars in legal work we performed for the center and for Haitian refugees. In fact, we periodically made contributions out of our own pockets to assist the center. In the last several years, because of the center's precarious financial situation, we did not even attempt to collect out-of-pocket costs that ran into tens of thousands of dollars. Although we occasionally received fee awards from the U.S. government as a result of their ill treatment of the refugees, these fees did not represent anything close to the millions of dollars in attorneys' time we spent over that nineteen-year period.

During most of those years, we did not represent the Haitian government. In fact, we spent most of our time trying to work to change the government and to establish democracy in Haiti. The letter made it appear as if the nineteen years that I spent representing Haitian refugees was in some manner compensated by the government of Haiti. The implication was that I did nineteen years of pro bono work for Haitian refugees not because I believed in it, but because I got paid for it by the Haitian government. The truth is quite different. I began to represent the government of Haiti only after Jean-Bertrand Aristide was democratically elected. I continued to represent him and the government in Haiti while they were in exile in the United States. I continue to represent the government of Haiti today under Pres. Rene Garcia Preval. Our firm is paid on an hourly basis. The rate we charge the government of Haiti is significantly less than what I charge other clients because of my commitment to the people of Haiti. The compensation we receive is for the work we do for the government of Haiti, not for the pro bono work we have done and continue to do for Haitian refugees.

Although the letter focused on how much we received from the Haitian government, it never mentioned the work we perform for the government or the money we have recouped for it. As a result of our work, we have recovered more than $600,000 in funds stolen by the Duvaliers, and we recently obtained an $11 million judgment against Michele Bennett Duvalier. At the same time, I am working on a project that would raise between ten and twenty million dollars in revenue for Haiti. More important, as every Haitian in this community who supports democracy in Haiti knows, I played a role in helping to restore democracy to Haiti after the coup. I was at Governor's Island with President Aristide and worked closely with Haitian and U.S. government officials to see that democracy was ultimately restored to Haiti.

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