Los Angeles Times
April 30, 2003
Holocaust art theft suit gets go-ahead
By Suzanne Muchnic, 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.
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."
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
If the Altmann case does not proceed to the Supreme Court, it will
return to a federal district court in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Daily Journal
April 30, 2003
By Katherine Gaidos
Woman Can Sue Austria for Painting
A federal appellate court has refused to reconsider allowing the niece
of the wowman depicted in painter Gustav Klimt's master work to sue the
Austrian government to recover Nazi-looted paintings.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Monday denied Austria's petition
for rehearing the Deecember published decision pushing the lawsuit forward.
Maria Altmann, 87, of Los Angeles, is suing for the return of six Gustav
Klimt works looted from her uncle's estate by the Nazis during the 1938
invasion of Austria.
Altmann's lawsuit estimates the paintings' value at $150 million. The
cache includes the renowned, gold-tones "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,"
who is Altmann's aunt.
Altmann contends that the Austrian government wrongfully refused to
return the paintings after the war. The artworks now hang in the Austrian
In December, the appellate court found that Altmann's suit was allowed
by one of the exemptions in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The act
generally prohibits suits against foreign governments in U.S. courts.
The U.S. Department of Justice joined the Austrian government as amicus
curiae in petitioning for a rehearing of the decision. E. Randol Schoenberg
of Burris & Schoenberg, counsel for Altmann, said in a statement that the
denial was "yet another huge victory for Mrs. Altmann and for the justness
of her claims."
"She's the last of the named heirs. The last of the original family who
grew up with these paintings, and so it would be nice to have some closure
and some resolution in her lifetime," Schoenberg said.
Scott Cooper of Proskauer Rose in Los Angeles, counsel for the Austrian
government, said his client would consider petitioning the U.S. Supreme
Court for a reversal.
The 9th Circuit's decision "misinterprets the statute, and therefore
creates a number of problems," he said.