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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Florida Court Orders Entity Called Victims of Holocaust Art Theft to Get a Lawyer in Lawsuit Against Czech Republic

Florida federal court, southern district
Edward Fagan filed a lawsuit in April against the Czech Republic and two of its cultural institutions on behalf of Victims of Holocaust Art Theft, an entity created in Florida one day before the lawsuit was filed.  Now the court has ordered that Victims of Holocaust Art Theft must get a lawyer by July 5 or have its complaint dismissed.

The case of Victims of Holocaust Art Theft v. Czech Republic; National Gallery in Prague; Museum of Decorative Arts of Prague  is a replevin (i.e. give the stuff back) action that seeks the return of alleged Nazi looted art.  Fagan is reportedly a reparations lawyer who no longer possesses a license to practice law.  The United States District Court, Southern District of Florida, reviewed Fagan's civil complaint sua sponte (i.e. on its own, without any party filing a motion).  The court concluded the following (citations omitted in the order quoted below):

"Plaintiff, an entity known as Victims of Holocaust Art Theft, seeks to recover an art collection that allegedly was stolen from a Jewish Czech family (the Poppers) by the Nazis and is now in the possession of the Czech Republic and its museums. According to the Complaint, Plaintiff  'is a business registered in Florida and in this judicial district, is an owner of certain interests in The Popper Collection, [and] is a limited partner with and has limited but express authority [of] Michal Klepetář, one of The Popper Heirs . . . to take certain acts regarding The Popper Collection, including commencing this action.' The Complaint further notes that Plaintiff’s formation 'is the result of agreements, cooperation and partnering between / of Edward D. Fagan and Michal Klepetář . . . and other persons with similar claims for restitution / replevin of art work originating in other Eastern European countries.'"

"The Complaint is signed by Edward D. Fagan on behalf of Plaintiff. Based on a review of the Complaint and the accompanying Civil Cover Sheet, it is clear that Fagan has filed the Complaint as a pro se representative of Plaintiff, not as its attorney. Nowhere does the Complaint indicate that Fagan is an attorney admitted to practice before this Court."

"Although parties in federal court are generally allowed to 'plead and conduct their own cases personally or by counsel,' '[i]t has been the law for the better part of two centuries . . . that a corporation may appear in the federal courts only through licensed counsel.' . . . This is true regardless of whether the entity 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 Klepetář) other than Fagan. Moreover, Plaintiff seeks to vindicate the interests of Klepetář and other persons in allegedly stolen artwork. Fagan, therefore, may not represent Plaintiff on a pro se basis. Instead, if Plaintiff wishes to proceed in this action, it must be represented by counsel."

CONTACT: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com