Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Archive for March 24th, 2010

Lerach Is Back

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From our California politics’ “Greatest Hits of the 90s” collection: securities plaintiffs attorney Bill Lerach is out of jail, and scheduled to speak at a University of San Diego Law panel on April 12. Event’s topic: “Where is Corporate and Securities Litigation Headed Post Crisis”?

If you’re new to the California scene, you might be asking: Bill Who?

Fair enuf.

Well, 15 years Mr. Lerach was arguably the scariest man in California politics.

The San Diego attorney was the driving force behind 1996’s Proposition 211, which had it passed would have sparked a flurry of class-action lawsuits against California-based high-tech and biotech firms by disgruntled shareholders.

At the peak of his powers, in the mid-90s, Lerach and his firm commanded about one-fourth of all securities class-action lawsuits in the nation.

Depending on one’s political slant, Lerach was either the people’s champion — or the pit bull attorney from hell. Here’s The Wall Street Journal’s assessment: “John Grisham would have struggled to have invented a character as brilliant and unethical as Bill Lerach.”

While the so-called Lerach initiative failed, it did have consequences, one of which was mobilizing Silicon Valley, for the first time, as a political force to be reckoned with.

From the 211 fight emerged the TechNet political/policy group, which became a player both in Sacramento and Washington as an embodiment of deep-pocketed, New Economy tech executives.

And from that grew the political networking of such California heavyweights as venture capitalist John Doerr, whose firm in turn brought in Al Gore as a partner.

And you can argue that Gore’s relationship with Silicon Valley — the fascination with green technology, his ties to Apple, and his blending in with the corporate-casual MBAs on fabled Sand Hill Road– didn’t hurt his chances for either the Oscar or that Nobel Peace Prize.

But whereas the last 15 years have generally been good to the former vice president (with the exception of that Florida recount), that hasn’t been the case for Mr. Lerach.

In February 2008 he received a two-year sentence and was ordered to give up $7.75 million for concealing illegal payments to a plaintiff in class-action lawsuits. That was four months after Lerach pled guilty to conspiring to obstruct justice.  

His return to the spotlight certain won’t evoke fond memories from Corporate California — back in the day, when executives were sued by the man, they’d say they were “Lerached”.

And reporters certainly have missed his colorful comments, including this gem of an observation about lawyers: “We’re like snakes . . . cut us in half and we’ll still wiggle.”


Written by Bill Whalen

March 24, 2010 at 11:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized