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Holocaust art theft suit gets go-ahead

Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles woman’s attempt to retrieve $150 million worth of artworks seized by the Nazis in 1939 has taken a step forward. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday denied Austria’s petition to reconsider the court’s earlier decision upholding the right of 87-year-old Maria Altmann to pursue her claim for the recovery of six Gustav Klimt paintings looted from her family’s collection.

The federal appeals court had ruled on Dec. 12 that Altmann was entitled to sue the Austrian government, which has possession of the six paintings, in U.S. courts. The decision was the first time in Holocaust reparations litigation that a federal appeals court had ruled that a foreign government could be held accountable in a U.S. court. But the U.S. Justice Department later filed a brief, arguing against the precedent-setting decision and supporting the Austrian challenge.

For the record:

12:00 AM, May. 01, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 01, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Attorney’s name -- An article in Wednesday’s Calendar about a lawsuit concerning the return of artworks seized by the Nazis misidentified Los Angeles attorney Scott P. Cooper of Proskauer Rose as Jack Cooper.

On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court voted against reconsidering the case and concluded: “No further petitions for rehearing will be entertained.”

“I couldn’t be happier,” said Altmann’s attorney, E. Randol Schoenberg of Burris & Schoenberg in Los Angeles. “This is yet another huge victory for Mrs. Altmann and for the justness of her claims. It was alarming when the U.S. government stepped in. I hoped and expected that this would be the result, but you never know. Fortunately, the judges are independent, and they decided that our legal position was correct.”

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Altmann filed suit in Los Angeles federal court in August 2000, after being rebuffed by Austrian authorities.

The case has been tied up by “Austria’s jurisdictional motions and appeals” for nearly three years, Schoenberg said. “We are eager to try the case on its merits.”

One potential hurdle remains, however. Representatives of the Austrian government have about 90 days to petition the Supreme Court to review the case. Los Angeles attorney Jack Cooper of Proskauer Rose, who represents Austria, said his client is considering an appeal.

“This is a jurisdictional decision,” he added. “We expect to prevail on the merits.”

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If the Altmann case does not proceed to the Supreme Court, it will return to a federal district court in Los Angeles.


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