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9/11 Suits in Legal Limbo; Gravely Ill Left Hanging

NEW YORK-- The judge overseeing the lawsuits of thousands of sick 9/11 rescue workers says he won t speed up trials for several responders described as being on death s door.

Manhattan federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein refused a request to set early trials for three World Trade Center workers who suffer severe lung disease.

I m not going to do that, Hellerstein said in court Nov. 16. He later heard details in his chambers about retired NYPD detective Michael Valentin, 43, retired NYPD officer Frank Maisano, 41, and Ground Zero morgue volunteer Mary Bishop, 45.

All three of them are on death s door, lawyer Paul Napoli said.

While sympathetic, Hellerstein said there are too many legal issues to start individual cases, according to lawyers in the conference.

The city has so far refused to negotiate an out-of-court deal, but has urged Congress to reopen the Victim Compensation Fund to compensate sick workers.

Maisano arrived at Ground Zero when the second tower collapsed, and was caught in the dust and smoke, NYPD records show. He worked 16-hour shifts over the next four days, and later did tours sifting debris at Fresh Kills landfill.

Nearly three years later, he collapsed while chasing a robber.

His 9/11 line-of-duty disability pension pays three-quarters of his $60,000 officer s salary, without life insurance.

Bishop, who worked in an HIV lab at St. Vincent s Hospital downtown, boarded an ambulance to Ground Zero on 9/11 and stayed 24 days as a volunteer, labeling and bagging body parts.

She got skin cancer and developed chronic lung disease that is too far gone to operate, her lawyer, Marc Bern, told the judge.

Bishop shares a cramped Queens apartment with her 24-year-old daughter Natasha, a hospital worker who supports her. She relies on an electric respirator.

Her sister, Marlene, is bitter: It hurts to see how my sister sacrificed, and what she got in return -- a slap in the face.

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