Suit: Dad owes big judgment in 1987 NY child death

AP News
Posted: Jun 10, 2014 7:20 PM
Suit: Dad owes big judgment in 1987 NY child death

NEW YORK (AP) — A disbarred attorney convicted of killing his illegally adopted daughter in a 1987 case that riveted the city still owes millions of dollars he was ordered to pay her birth mother a decade ago, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Joel Steinberg, the father branded a "monster" in the city's tabloids after the 6-year-old's beating death, hasn't paid any part of the $15 million judgment against him in her mother's wrongful-death case, her new lawsuit says. She's seeking to renew the judgment, a legal step that would enable her try further to collect it, said her lawyer, Wayne Schaefer.

In 2007, a new trial was ordered on one aspect of the civil case, tied to a $5 million piece of the judgment, but the retrial hasn't happened. It's not immediately clear why.

Steinberg didn't immediately answer an email sent to a possible address for him. No working phone number for him could immediately be found.

Steinberg, 73, became an infamous figure in a case that highlighted flaws in adoptions and in systems for reporting child and spousal abuse. It began after his daughter, Lisa, was found unresponsive in their Manhattan home and died three days later, having suffered head injuries. Neither Steinberg nor his live-in girlfriend, Hedda Nussbaum, had called for help for Lisa until 12 hours after she fell unconscious.

Steinberg denied he beat or abused Lisa. But Nussbaum testified that he had hit Lisa in the head for staring at him, then ignored her injuries and smoked cocaine. Nussbaum said a long history of physical and psychological abuse meted out by Steinberg left her unable to aid Lisa.

Steinberg had gotten Lisa as an infant from her teenage mother, Michele Launders. She paid him $500 in legal fees to arrange an adoption — he took the infant home instead.

Steinberg was convicted of manslaughter and released from prison in 2004.

In the civil case, Steinberg argued the $15 million judgment was excessive. The trial judge had defended the award, saying there was no cause to compare it to others because "there is no case that even remotely approaches this one on the facts."

The state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, ordered the new trial on a part of the case that concerned whether Lisa was abused before the night she died.


Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.