Edward Fagan, the disbarred attorney who has championed the return of Nazi-looted artwork to Holocaust survivors and their families, and won big settlements in the process, has hit a roadblock in his latest case, this time against the Czech Republic in the Southern District of Florida. According to the Courthouse News Service, the court ruled that, because he has been disbarred, he cannot appear pro se—representing the organization he co-owns, as a plaintiff in the case.
In April, Mr. Fagan brought a case by an entity known as the Victims of Holocaust Art Theft against the Czech Republic. Mr. Fagan claims he co-owns the entity, Victims of Holocaust Art Theft, along with several individuals who seek restitution in Eastern European countries. Michal Klepetar, the great-nephew of Richard and Regina Popper, wealthy Jewish art patrons who died in the Łódź ghetto in 1941, previously attempted to claim the alleged Nazi-looted artwork in a suit brought in the Czech Republic, but his attempts were foiled by a Czech law that permits only direct descendants of those murdered by Nazis—brothers, sisters, wives, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren—to file such claims.
Mr. Fagan established the entity Victims of Holocaust Art Theft in Boca Raton, Fla., claiming to have bought an interest in the $50-million art collection, which included 125 Old Master works from German, Dutch, French and Spanish artists from the 16th to the 19th centuries, eight of which found their way into Prague’s National Gallery.
U.S. District Judge James Cohn in Fort Lauderdale determined on Monday that a disbarred attorney cannot practice law before the court. Mr. Fagan, who was disbarred in New York and New Jersey in 2008 after failing to pay a $350,000 fine issued in a 2005 case in which the court concluded that the Holocaust survivor group Fagan claimed to represent didn’t exist.
In this current case, Mr. Fagan appeared in court pro se (representing himself), and not as an attorney. However, the court concluded that a corporation, such as Victims of Holocaust Art Theft, must be represented by an attorney in a federal case, whether that corporation is a for-profit enterprise or a nonprofit organization.
“Here, while plaintiff’s exact form and nature are not fully clear, the complaint shows that plaintiff is an organization owned and controlled by at least one person (Michal Klepetar) other than Fagan,” Judge Cohn wrote. “Moreover, plaintiff seeks to vindicate the interests of Klepetar and other persons in allegedly stolen artwork. Fagan, therefore, may not represent plaintiff on a pro se basis.”
Mr. Fagan and the Victims of Holocaust Art Theft have until July 5 to find an attorney or risk having the case dismissed.