Lerach sentenced to two years

Over decades, the class-action titan paid secret kickbacks to pliant “representative” plaintiffs, then systematically falsified the nature of his relations to those plaintiffs the better to deceive judges, opponents, competing class action lawyers, and class members. He and his defenders are now portraying his offenses — even the systematic lying to courts — as minor and victimless. For some indications of why our legal system takes a very different view, see my WSJ op-ed of a year and a half back. Per Peter Lattman’s story/interview in today’s WSJ, “Mr. Lerach has requested, and the judge will recommend, that he be sent to Lompoc, a low-security federal penitentiary in Southern California often called a ‘country-club prison’ or ‘Club Fed.'”

Yesterday’s L.A. Times piece by Molly Selvin takes note of Lerach’s “trademark vitriol — he famously threatened to “destroy” companies that balked at settling”. Selvin also quotes NYU legal ethicist Stephen Gillers expressing concern that the spate of Milberg Weiss prosecutions “has to worry [lawyers] even if they’re doing nothing wrong because the Justice Department has shown its willingness to look into how they do business”. Gillers offers no examples of any Milberg lawyers who have been prosecuted despite “doing nothing wrong”, nor does he explore the question of how lawyers might exploit the impunity they would enjoy if the Justice Department permanently refused to “look into how they do business”. Indeed, if Lerach is right when he says kickbacks to named plaintiffs were industry practice in the class-action biz, it would seem that DoJ should have started “looking into how they do business” long before it did.

With fine understatement, Andrew Perlman at Legal Ethics Forum observes that it would “send the wrong message to students” for Lerach to be permitted to set up teaching legal ethics to law students at the University of Pittsburgh as part of his sentence. And taking a contrarian view, Larry Ribstein (via Bainbridge) says an appropriate comparison for Lerach would be to Michael Milken (Drexel Burnham) or Jeff Skilling (Enron) — but in the good sense.

More: This morning’s New York Times, a paper in whose columns Milberg Weiss long enjoyed cordial if not deferent coverage, buries the Lerach sentencing on an inside page of the business section. The paper’s “Dealbook” blog covers the story here. And The Economist recalls a “shouting match” in 2006 between Lerach and a leading British corporate governance advocate over whether litigation was the best way to address shareholder/manager conflicts. Plus: Charles Cooper, CNet.


  • This sentence will not deter the illegal conduct, it will generate a signup list. Four lawyers go to jail and all the others engaged in this industrywide practice are allowed to continue business as usual. To see how this works in the real world see www.
    stoplegalfiction.org. Unsupervised exercise of fiduciary duties by lawyers paying kickbacks and lying to Courts is bad for the client. This is why cases settle for pennies on a Dollar no matter how many criminal convictions or regulatory findings there are.

  • If the CEO of a large corporation had done the equivalent, he would be looking at ruin and decades in jail. Lawyer gets wrist slapped and is still richer than Midas.

  • If these abuses were an industry wide practice, wouldn’t a class action lawsuit against plaintiff’s lawyers, as a group, be the proper remedy?