“All we are asking for is an honest investigation of the facts.” – Rep. Henry Waxman, December 24, 2001
Interviewed after his trial, famous – now infamous – class action attorney Bill Lerach admitted it is “industry practice” to give kickbacks to certain plaintiffs, which effectively bilked other clients out of their settlements. Yesterday, Lerach reported to the minimum-security federal facility at Lompoc, California, to begin serving a two-year sentence for committing crimes he considers merely in line with the standard operating procedure of the trial bar. The “industry practice” that landed Lerach in jail has also netted his former law partner Mel Weiss, whose part in the racketeering scheme may put him in prison for 18 to 33 months.
In light of the 20-year span and the “breathtaking” (as the sentencing judge described it) scope of his wrongdoings, some are questioning whether Lerach’s punishment fits his crimes. Is two years long enough for a seemingly unabashed Lerach to learn his lesson? Who knows.
The better question is: What lesson is Lerach teaching the rest of us about the depth of greed and corruption in the plaintiffs’ trial bar?
It might be easier to shrug off the cases of Lerach and Weiss as isolated incidences, but some are beginning to wonder why America’s lawsuit industry is churning out admitted felons.
It turns out that Lerach and Weiss are not the only trial lawyers in legal and ethical hot water. Dickie Scruggs, another famed class action trial lawyer from Mississippi, recently pleaded guilty for attempting to bribe a judge for a favorable ruling. And to top off this list, we may soon add the Kentucky Three, the trial lawyers accused of stealing $65 million from their clients in a diet drug settlement.
Lisa A. Rickard serves as president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), where she provides strategic leadership to ILR's comprehensive program aimed at changing the legal culture that has resulted in our nation's litigation explosion.