On Monday, Orange County conservative activists lost the fight to block liberal law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky from becoming the first UC Irvine law school dean. But this morning must feel better. The United States Attorney's Office based in Los Angeles announced that it has won a guilty plea from William S. Lerach, a plaintiff's lawyer who successfully sued corporate America in class-action lawsuits.
Lerach, a 61-year-old Rancho Santa Fe resident and major campaign contributor to Democrats, now acknowledges that he obstructed justice and made false statements under oath to federal judges throughout the United States. Thom Mrozek, a government spokesman, said that Lerach must forfeit $7.75 million, pay a $250,000 fine and, depending on a judge's mood, face up to two years in a federal prison.
Federal prosecutors with assistance from postal inspectors and the IRS Criminal Division allege that Lerach (pictured) and his cohorts (some of whom haven't gone to trial) organized a kickback scheme in class-action and shareholder derivative-action lawsuits. The feds say Lerach's old firm, Milberg Weiss, took more than $200 million in fees from these types of lawsuits in the last two decades.
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Lerach, literally despised in Orange County business circles, frequently clashed with Newport Beach Republican politician Christopher Cox, who now serves as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.