Does the name ring a bell? He was a deep-pocketed plaintiff lawyer who cozied up to the Clintons and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats. And he got his money’s worth. Left-wing magazine Mother Jones recounted more than a decade ago:
Attendees at a private White House dinner on December 15 may have seen Bill Clinton and William Lerach speaking and shaking hands. What they probably didn’t notice was Lerach twisting the president’s arm.
Four days later, the president vetoed the Securities Litigation Reform Act. The bill, which makes it more difficult for shareholders to sue their own companies for securities fraud, enjoyed wide bipartisan support, but Clinton startled his party with a last-minute veto. (In late December, Congress overrode the veto handily.)
Clinton’s veto seems to have been a “good faith” gesture to Lerach, head of the San Diego office of law firm Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes & Lerach. Milberg Weiss, the acknowledged leader in shareholder class-action litigation, secures annual settlements estimated at $225 million from this type of suit, according to the newsletter Securities Class Action Alert…
…Lerach, wife Star Soltan, and other associates of Milberg Weiss…have poured more than $1 million into Democratic coffers since 1990. According to Forbes, Lerach is among the nations’ top-paid trial attorneys, taking home an estimated $7 million per year. He is also among the most loathed men in Silicon Valley, where vacillating stock prices open the door for shareholders to sue companies if executives make incorrect predictions of corporate success. Milberg Weiss has filed such suits agains the likes of Apple, Silicon Graphics, and Intel (five times in 1994 alone). “The high-tech industry needs someone to demonize,” Lerach once told the San Francisco Examiner. “I’m the Willie Horton of securities law.”
Well, now Lerach may be headed to jail. The Washington Post reports tonight:
William S. Lerach, one of the nation’s best known and wealthiest plaintiff lawyers, is preparing to plead guilty as early as today to a single criminal conspiracy charge that could send him to prison for up to two years, according to sources familiar with the case.
Lerach, 61, resigned from his California law firm last month after intense speculation about his personal exposure in a lengthy federal criminal investigation. At the time, he said he wanted “to focus single-mindedly on putting the matter behind me once and for all.”
During his heyday, Lerach won settlements worth billions of dollars from major companies, including a record $7.3 billion payout from firms that helped Enron disguise its financial problems.
For seven years, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have been probing allegations that Lerach and his former partners at the Milberg Weiss law firm enlisted people to buy shares in big corporations and then paid them to serve as plaintiffs in lawsuits. Government lawyers said that the payments, totaling more than $11 million, were not disclosed to judges or other investors and allowed Lerach and his team to arrive first at the courthouse to seize control of the class-action cases and to collect bigger slices of settlements or court victories.
Lerach is to plead guilty in court papers to be released as early as this week, with a court appearance following over the next several days, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
I know you won’t be surprised that there is no mention of Lerach’s political affiliation and prime benefactors in the WaPo piece.
Another Lerach beneficiary? Yup, Silky Pony:
[John] Edwards, a former trial lawyer and senator from North Carolina, led all other candidates in contributions from lawyers, with $4.9 million. One of the firms whose employees contributed significantly to his campaign was Lerach Coughlin, one of the most feared class action law firms on Wall Street. The firm, led by William S. Lerach, has filed hundreds of high-profile lawsuits on behalf of investors.
Via Opensecrets.org, here’s Lerach’s 2008 donor record:
Lerach’s 2004 and 2006 donations totaled $93,569…including 3 checks worth $3,100 to Hillary Clinton.
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