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January 30, 2008

Feds saying harm to reputation justifies a below-guideline sentence for Bill Lerach

As detailed in this New York Sun article and this WSJ Law Blog post, federal prosecutors "are seeking a two-year prison term for one of the nation's most successful class-action attorneys, William Lerach."  The Sun article explains why this is notable:

Prosecutors said federal guidelines call for a sentence somewhat longer than 24 months, but that the term would be sufficient for Lerach in light of the harm done to his reputation.... Lerach "stands in disgrace before the profession of which he considered himself a national leader," prosecutors said. They did give Lerach credit for coming forward on his own initiative with an offer to plead guilty and for having no direct involvement in the alleged conspiracy "for a considerable time."

Lerach's defense team has also weighed in on the sentence and is presumably seeking the minimum prison term under the plea agreement, 12 months.  However, the defense's precise position is unknown because it has asked that all its papers relating to sentencing, including letters testifying to Lerach's character, be placed under seal.

This news make this case the rare (first?) post-Booker high-profile sentencing setting, at least that I can recall, in which the government is urging a below-guideline sentence for reasons other than cooperation with authorities.  Of course, the government is hardly being a softie here.  As detailed in this WSJ post, the government's sentencing advice may be mandated by the terms of the plea agreement and is still tougher than what Lerach's PSR recommends:

The plea agreement calls for a one to two-year sentence. Within that range, exactly how much is just right is now a source of debate within the federal government.  The U.S. Probation Office has recommended 15 months, but in a court filing yesterday prosecutors asked for two years. Los Angeles federal Judge John Walter is due to sentence the famed securities litigator a week from Monday.  A mere 15 months, prosecutors argue, “does not adequately promote respect for the law, nor does it provide just punishment.”

January 30, 2008 at 08:23 AM | Permalink


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That could apply in a LOT of cases, it seems to me: Marion Jones and Dana Stubblefield come to mind.

It's also part of the reason Bush commuted Libby's sentence, and IMO a legitimate reason for reducing a sentence when the offender is not an ongoing threat. Hell, in some of these steroid cases the only real argument for prosecution is the publicity the government is seeking, so when that's a governmental purpose, having it met should somewhat satiate its lust for punishment.

Good catch, Doug!

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 30, 2008 8:40:35 AM

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