Another paid plaintiff was Seymour Lazar, an eccentric retiree in Palm Springs. He had collected $2.4 million in kickbacks from Milberg Weiss. Like Cooperman, he had bought little pieces of many companies so he could jump to the courthouse on command as an aggrieved investor.
Lerach and Weiss initially resisted the government’s investigation, insisting it was politically motivated, but Lerach finally capitulated, followed by Weiss. “I did a lot of stuff,” Lerach confided to a friend, according to the book.
Lerach insists that he was responsible for few frivolous suits. His foes “exaggerated the small amount of abuse present,” he says, but he would get a strong argument from companies such as Hewlett-Packard that spent bundles of money getting Lerached. He points to his successful suits, such as the $7 billion recovered in Enron, which came well after the 1995 legislation. And there is no arguing the point: Lerach was a brilliant legal strategist. He just fouled his own nest.
“The book is not so much about the lawyers but about the business of the law,” says Dillon. And it’s a tawdry business.
“It’s a pretty inefficient system for making investors whole,” says Cannon. It was inefficient when Lerach rose to prominence, and unfortunately, it still is.