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Lawyer under probe may quit

William Lerach says he could retire, adding to talk he may be indicted.

June 02, 2007|Molly Selvin | Times Staff Writer

Adding to speculation that he might soon be indicted, renowned class-action lawyer William Lerach on Friday confirmed reports that he was "considering retirement" from the San Diego firm he founded three years ago.

Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins issued a statement Friday saying that Lerach "is cognizant of the fact that although our firm has never been a target of this or any investigation, the investigation should not become a distraction to our firm."

Firm spokesman Dan Newman declined to elaborate on the reasons for Lerach's possible retirement or a timetable for his decision. A call to Lerach's attorney, John Keker, was not returned.

Lerach, 61, has been widely considered the last major target of federal prosecutors, who have indicted a major New York law firm and two of its partners on charges of fraud, conspiracy and payment of illegal kickbacks. Lerach had been a partner at the firm, Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman.

The statement from Lerach's current firm follows reports that defendant David Bershad, a former Milberg Weiss partner, is talking with prosecutors about a possible plea deal.

Bershad, along with Steven Schulman and the firm, were indicted in May 2006. The government contends they paid at least $11.3 million in kickbacks over 25 years to clients who agreed to act as plaintiffs in more than 150 class actions. The "paid plaintiffs" helped position the firm to take the lead in securities fraud cases and collect extra fees, according to the indictment.

All have pleaded not guilty.

Lerach ran Milberg's West Coast office until 2004, when he left to form Lerach Coughlin.

Lerach Coughlin has 175 attorneys in eight cities and says it has recovered more than $25 billion from major corporations on behalf of shareholders.

molly.selvin@latimes.com

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