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February 11, 2008

What sentence will (and should) Bill Lerach get?

As detailed in this Reuters story, class-action attorney Bill Lerach has lots of notable supporters as he faces sentencing on Monday:

Famed San Diego class-action attorney William Lerach has asked a federal judge to sentence him to a year in prison and to let him serve half that stretch at home as punishment for his role in a client kickbacks scheme, according to court papers filed Friday. 

Scores of supporters, including Ralph Nader, commentator Ben Stein and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, filed letters praising Lerach with the court of U.S. District Judge John Walter, who is set to sentence Lerach Monday. Prosecutors have asked Walter to sentence Lerach, best known for winning more than $7 billion in legal settlements on behalf of Enron investors, to two years in prison....

The federal probation office recommended a sentence of 15 to 21 months, two to three years of supervised release and a fine of $4,000 to $40,000 for Lerach.  Defense attorney John Keker argued in a sentencing memo filed Friday that his client deserves a lighter sentence in light of “his exemplary character and compelling personal history and his continuing value to the community.”  The sentencing memo excerpted at length the letters of support, which came “from gardeners to judges, adversaries to colleagues, family members to friends,” as well as investors who recouped lost funds thanks to Lerach, Keker wrote.

Interestingly, as detailed in this New York Sun article, one of the letter submitted on Lerach's behalf has some notable comments about the practice of paying plaintiffs:

A prominent class-action lawyer facing sentencing today for secretly paying plaintiffs to file securities lawsuits, William Lerach, is suggesting that the under-the-table practice was widespread and was not isolated to the firm he helped run for decades, Milberg Weiss.  Lerach's claim that the payments were commonplace came in a letter one of his family members filed with Judge John Walter, who is scheduled to impose the sentence during a hearing this morning at federal court in Los Angeles....

"I did something wrong and I have to pay the price. Everybody was paying plaintiffs so they could bring their cases. I thought I had to do it, too," Lerach recently told one of his children, according to the letter. "After they changed the law, I stopped doing it, but other people at my firm kept doing it.  I didn't know they were … I made the wrong decision and I have to go to jail."

The letter containing Lerach's comments on the scope of the secret payments was among those filed under seal, but an excerpt from it appeared in a defense pleading that was not properly redacted.

Related prior post:

UPDATE:  The WSJ Law Blog has this post on the Lerach sentencing, as well as this link to the "public version" of his sentencing memorandum filed in the district court.

February 11, 2008 at 04:12 AM | Permalink


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This is a very sweet plea agreement. I'm sure it's the envy of many.

Posted by: beth curtis | Feb 11, 2008 2:44:46 PM

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