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/ImagesNBS100/UpdateClassActions108w.jpg1. Feature Story / The Los Angeles Times report that Melvyn I. Weiss, one of the nation's most powerful class-action lawyers, expects to be indicted today in connection with the government fraud case against the New York law firm he helped found 42 years ago.
••• The firm, Milberg Weiss, said in a statement that it also would face new charges in an indictment to be handed down in Los Angeles. The news of the indictment was first reported on Fortune magazine's website.
••• Lawsuit king wins one on his way to prison
••• The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles wouldn't comment and Weiss declined to be interviewed.
••• Milberg Weiss said in the statement that Weiss, 72, had given up his management role in the firm to focus on his defense.
••• In the field of class-action securities law, Weiss is "the big fish," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor, "the one you want to have your picture taken with."
••• His former partner and onetime apprentice, William S. Lerach -- at least as powerful as Weiss and probably more feared by companies -- agreed Tuesday to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy in the Milberg Weiss case.
••• Another former Milberg Weiss partner, Steven Schulman, is nearing a deal that could also be announced today, the Daily Journal said. He is expected to plead to a single racketeering conspiracy charge, according to Fortune, and will agree to cooperate with prosecutors. His lawyer didn't return phone calls.
••• On top of the conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering charges against Milberg Weiss in an indictment handed down last year, one more charge -- obstruction of justice -- will be added today, according to lawyers involved in the case.
••• Prosecutors allege that Milberg Weiss secretly paid more than $11 million in kickbacks to persuade people to serve as plaintiffs in more than 150 class-action and shareholder lawsuits so that its lawyers could be among the first to file litigation, become lead plaintiffs' counsel and receive a larger share of fees.
••• Weiss has long insisted that his firm did nothing wrong. He refused to make a deal with prosecutors over the summer, these people said, even as former partner David Bershad negotiated one. Bershad pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the government.
••• "Mel didn't get where he is by being a wimp," said Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor who knows Weiss. "He got where he is by staring people down."
••• A New York native, Weiss began his career trying personal injury and real estate cases before teaming with Larry Milberg, a securities lawyer 22 years his senior. Milberg died in 1989.
••• In 1966, a year after the two men founded the firm that still bears their names, federal court rules changed, permitting shareholders who believed they had been bilked to sue as a class.
••• It was a monumental change. The damage an individual claimed was often too trivial to interest a lawyer. But by joining thousands of aggrieved shareholders together in a class action, companies could be forced into settlements worth hundreds of millions, even billions, with a third of the total payout typically going to the lawyers.
••• Each victory helped the firm bankroll new litigation and by the 1980s, Milberg Weiss had vaulted into the top tier of plaintiff firms.
••• During 47 years in practice, Weiss built a significant record of pro bono work -- recovering $5 billion from German banks for Holocaust victims, underwriting scholarships for law students and representing a group of Nigerian children who claimed they were seriously injured by drugs manufactured by Pfizer Inc.
••• Weiss' indictment would effectively end the career of what Gillers called "a lion" of the legal profession. It would also raise questions about whether his firm, which all but invented shareholder class actions, can survive. It had 145 lawyers before the 2006 indictment; defections have cut the number to 76.
••• Loyola's Levenson said Weiss might feel pressure to cut a deal.
••• "It's a heck of a way to end your career," she said. "But whatever years

Part 02 / William Lerach, in his own words: / 1991: "People try to pretend the law is not a business. Baloney! It's a big business."
••• 1995: "We like to think that as private enforcers of the securities laws, we act as policemen in the marketplace."
••• 2000: "I don't care what people say about me. I care about what I think about myself."
••• 2002: "I really believe we're better than the criminal justice system, better than the Securities and Exchange Commission. Corporations fear us more than they fear anything else."
••• 2007: "(When) you spend decades challenging powerful interests, the powerful interests will fight back with a vengeance. Sometimes when you take the bull by the horns, you get gored &endash; this is the business we've chosen. I have to live with the world as it is &endash; not as I wish it was." -- Compiled by Scott Wilson
••• Lawsuit king wins one on his way to prison / By Molly Selvin and Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
••• September 20, 2007 / As he negotiated the deal that would send him to prison and seal his disgrace, the king of class actions was still working the system.
••• William S. Lerach, in agreeing to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy in connection with a kickback scheme that paid people to serve as plaintiffs in lawsuits, insisted that the firm he founded in San Diego in 2004 be shielded from prosecution.
••• reputation as a litigator of class-action suits against what Lerach once called the "dishonorable and despicable greed" of corporate America could be preserved. Maybe a little of his own reputation would be too.
••• "He's falling on his sword," said David Lisi, a corporate defense lawyer in Silicon Valley. "You have to admire loyalty like that."
••• Lerach has been more loathed than admired by corporate executives. He was so effective at shaking awards and settlements loose from companies that he became a verb -- as in "getting Lerached."
••• T.J. Rodgers, chief executive of San Jose-based Cypress Semiconductor, said he was celebrating that "there is justice after all" with a bottle of champagne. Lerach, he said, "took millions of dollars under false pretenses from honest people."
••• He also made history, pioneering modern-day securities class-action litigation with his former partner Melvyn Weiss, who practically invented the field in the 1960s.
••• On Wednesday, Weiss' firm, Milberg Weiss in New York, said that it expected to be indicted anew in the kickback case and that Weiss would be indicted too. Milberg Weiss already faces conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering charges leveled in a 2006 indictment that alleges the firm ran a criminal kickback operation, paying people to sign on as lead plaintiffs in more than 150 lawsuits.
••• Another former partner of Lerach's, Steven Schulman, has agreed to plead guilty, the Los Angeles Daily Journal reported Wednesday. The guilty pleas have piled up, amounting to five so far -- with Lerach's the most recent.
••• The rise and fall of the lawyer Wall Street loved to hate, said Columbia Law School professor John Coffee, "has the sense of a Greek tragedy."
••• The woolly-haired, chubby-faced Lerach issued a statement when his plea was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court, saying, "I have always fought for my clients aggressively and vigorously in order to hold powerful corporations responsible when their actions harmed people. However, I regrettably crossed a line and pushed too far."
••• That contrition was a sobering contrast to Lerach in his heyday. He was so successful that Congress wrote a law that changed the rules for awarding fees. He filed hundreds of lawsuits, suing at the drop of a missed revenue projection or slipping share price. Perhaps his most celebrated victory was against Enron executives and others involved in the fraud at the now-defunct company, defendants from which the Lerach team has extracted settlements of more than $7.2 billion.
••• Some executives who faced him in court or at the settlement table called him a brilliant strategist and said his dogged advocacy of victims of corporate avarice helped lead to reform. Some called him a bully who intimidated defendants into settlements and dispatched opponents with obscenity-laced rants.
••• Lerach was rich, with homes in Hawaii and Colorado and a personal collection of Shona stone carvings from Africa. He was famously flamboyant, hoisting for television cameras at a Houston courthouse a box of shredded Enron documents that he called "a smoking howitzer."
••• Democratic politicians counted him as a friend and fundraiser. He slept in the Lincoln Bedroom in the Clinton White House. On Wednesday, John Edwards' presidential campaign said it had donated to charity $4,600 in contributions from Lerach.
••• The deal Lerach made would send him to prison for a one-to-two-year term. He will pay the government $8 million and will probably be disbarred.
••• The 2006 indictment against Milberg Weiss, two former partners, a frequent plaintiff and that plaintiff's lawyer referred to "Partner A" and "Partner B" -- widely believed to be Lerach and Weiss -- as it laid out the allegations that Milberg Weiss made $11.3 million in payments over many years to people who agreed to be lead plaintiffs in class actions and allowed the firm to be the first to sue an accused company.
••• Before Congress passed the 1995 law, lawyers who filed first, not necessarily those representing clients with the most at stake, could claim a bigger cut of legal fees.
••• With a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh, Lerach, who began as a corporate defense lawyer, joined Milberg Weiss in 1976, signing on as the bull market and the biotech boom began to gather steam. The Securities and Exchange Commission during Ronald Reagan's presidency was cutting back on staff, enforcement and disclosure rules, creating a perfect storm for securities lawyers that generated waves of new business.
••• Shareholder suits rely on a section of the 1934 Securities and Exchange Act requiring full and accurate disclosure of events that could affect stock prices. Executives have complained that Weiss and Lerach took advantage of the provision, deliberately blurring the line between fraud and the inherent ups and downs of running a business.
••• Their lawsuits targeted some of the largest U.S. corporations, including AT&T; Lucent; WorldCom; Sears, Roebuck & Co.; and Microsoft.
••• Lerach was Weiss' disciple, initially in awe of the senior man's smarts and courtroom bravado. The student eventually outshone his teacher, racking up billions in jury awards and settlements.
••• Companies and executives so feared him that they often settled rather than took on the risk and expense of going to trial. It was such a shrewd, efficient, high-volume strategy that settling such cases became the cost of doing business in Silicon Valley.
••• Norman Blears, a Menlo Park, Calif., lawyer, said his clients took the Lerach factor seriously.
••• "For those of us who represented corporations and directors, we would get questions phrased not in terms of, 'Is this going to be a problem with the SEC?,' or, 'Is this going to be a technical violation of the law?,' but, 'If we do this, is it going to end up on Lerach's radar screen?' " Blears said. "I remember him telling people that this wasn't just some corporate issue that was going to go away. He was going to cause them to feel personal pain."
••• The late Al Shugart, a co-founder of Seagate Technology in Scotts Valley, Calif., and a defendant in four Lerach suits, declared war on him in the 1990s, taking out a full-page ad on the back cover of a technology magazine: "Enough is enough. Are securities lawyers holding your company ransom?" Shugart asked executives to send him their business cards. He received a couple of dozen, among them one from Lerach, which read, "Dear Al: More is coming."
••• The shareholders he helped remember a different Lerach. Charlie Prestwood, an Enron employee who lost his pension and life savings worth $1.3 million when the company disintegrated, praised Lerach for helping him recoup $53,000 and said he was "a super-nice person."
••• Christopher Patti, an attorney with the University of California, which received $250 million from a Lerach-filed suit against what was then AOL Time Warner and stands to recover a large sum from the Enron settlement, called Lerach "an incredibly talented, tenacious and very, very smart lawyer" who played "a very important role in eliminating abusive practices and in keeping the securities markets free from fraud and abuse."
••• At Milberg Weiss, the competitive instincts that served Lerach and Weiss so well in court ultimately ruined their friendship. Lerach left in 2004 and built his San Diego firm into a 180-lawyer powerhouse with outposts in nine cities. The headquarters, to which Lerach's Chihuahua, Tommy, was a frequent visitor, boasts a grand view of the bay. He resigned from what is now called Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins last month, and his name was removed from the door. -

Part 03 /

Top class-action lawyer may plead guilty in kickbacks / William Lerach won billions of dollars in judgments in securities cases against major corporations. / By Molly Selvin, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
••• September 18, 2007 / Celebrated securities lawyer William S. Lerach, who recouped billions of dollars for defrauded shareholders and collected billions in legal fees, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy in an alleged kickback scheme and could serve as long as two years in prison, people familiar with the situation said Monday.
••• Lerach, who resigned last month from the San Diego law firm that he founded in 2004, will pay a fine of several million dollars under the terms of the deal he made with federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, these people said.
••• They said that he had refused to cooperate with the government in its case against Milberg Weiss, the firm where he made his name, but that he could be called to testify at a trial scheduled to begin in January.
••• If the agreement, which was first reported on the Wall Street Journal website, is filed today as planned, Lerach's guilty plea will be the fifth in the case against the New York firm that was indicted last year in connection with the alleged payment of $11.3 million in illegal payments to clients who agreed to act as plaintiffs in class-action lawsuits.
••• Neither Lerach nor the firm's co-founder, Melvyn Weiss, were named in the 20-count indictment but are widely believed to be the "Partner A" and "Partner B" referred to throughout the document, which claims that the firm paid clients kickbacks so it could become the leads in class-action litigation and therefore win a larger share of legal fees.
••• Neither Lerach nor Weiss returned phone calls.
••• Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Loyola Law School, said the deal with Lerach indicated that "prosecutors are clearing the underbrush to ensure that he can't at least support the other side."
••• Lerach, 61, has been viewed as perhaps the most successful and certainly one of the most outspoken plaintiff lawyers in the country. While at Milberg Weiss, he and Weiss targeted some of the largest U.S. companies, including AT&T; Lucent; WorldCom; Sears, Roebuck; Microsoft; Prudential Insurance; and Lincoln Savings & Loan.
••• When he left, Lerach took much of Milberg Weiss' securities litigation with him, including shareholder suits against Enron -- eventually winning a record $7.1 billion on behalf of Enron investors. His Enron fees alone could total $1 billion.
••• As the federal investigation into his actions at Milberg Weiss heated up, Lerach resigned from what is now called Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, saying he wanted to work on "putting the matter behind me once and for all."
••• The deal he struck shields that firm from being charged in the Milberg Weiss case, according to several people.
••• His resignation was triggered by a plea agreement made in July by David Bershad, who was named in the indictment. The former Milberg Weiss partner -- who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors -- admitted that as the partner primarily responsible for overseeing Milberg Weiss' financial affairs, he kept track of illegal cash payments to clients, helped conceal them from the state and federal judges responsible for approving the firm's class-action fee awards and caused the firm to provide false and misleading tax information to the Internal Revenue Service.
••• Another defendant, former Beverly Hills ophthalmologist Steven Cooperman, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of justice, saying that he and some of his relatives and associates had agreed to serve as named plaintiffs in approximately 70 class actions Milberg Weiss filed. In the plea agreement he signed, Cooperman also said he conspired with "Partner A" and "Partner B."
••• The firm itself and three other defendants -- former partner Steven Schulman, frequent plaintiff Seymour Lazar and Lazar's lawyer Paul Setzer -- have pleaded not guilty.
••• Last month, a federal judge denied motions to dismiss charges against those defendants, rejecting arguments that payments lawyers at Milberg Weiss made weren't illegal kickbacks.
••• One defense lawyer argued that the alleged kickbacks were compensatory payments to the named plaintiffs in suits that eventually won class-action status. Those plaintiffs have more responsibilities than others, performing such tasks as giving depositions and appearing in court.
••• Since the indictment was handed down last year, dozens of lawyers have defected from the firm.
••• Lerach has been a generous Democratic donor and hasn't been shy about trying to leverage that largess, aggressively lobbying President Clinton in 1996 to veto a measure that would have made it harder to file shareholder suits. Clinton acquiesced but Congress overrode his veto.
••• In the last decade, Lerach has given almost $1 million to federal campaigns and candidates, including President Clinton, and far more to California campaigns. Earlier this year, Lerach and his former law firm partners in San Diego gave Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards more than $80,000.
••• molly.selvin@latimes.com



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