Criminal Justice

Class-Action King Pleads Guilty

William Lerach will give up a wealthy lifestyle and a profitable legal niche when he heads to prison as a result of his guilty plea to conspiracy.

Yesterday the securities class action lawyer acknowledged that he paid secret kickbacks to a lead plaintiff in a case brought by his former firm, now known as Milberg Weiss, the New York Times reports. His plea agreement said the firm typically paid such plaintiffs 10 percent of attorney fees, adding up to $11 million in secret payments.

The agreement calls for a sentence of one to two years in prison, forfeiture of $7.75 million earned in the conspiracy and a $250,000 fine, the Wall Street Journal reports (sub. req.). A judge could instead sentence Lerach to community confinement or reject the plea deal.

Lerach grew up in a working-class neighborhood, but by 1993, he had a mansion in an exclusive neighborhood, the Washington Post reports. He collected sculpture and African art, and traveled about the country on a private jet.

“For years, defense lawyers have swapped tales of Lerach’s often outrageous behavior,” the Post says. “Sometimes he filed court papers without bothering to substitute the names of his new corporate targets for the old ones. He cussed a blue streak. … Everything about the fuzzy-haired advocate got under his opponents’ skin—from his unorthodox appearance to his acute strategic intelligence, concealed under layers of bluster.”

Lerach apologized for his unlawful conduct in a statement. “I regrettably crossed a line and pushed too far,” he said.

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