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Lawyer in Plea Deal Was Edwards Bundler


John Edwards at a fundraiser in Chicago earlier this year. (AP).

Though his former law firm came under indictment more than a year ago and he himself appeared likely to face criminal charges, prominent trial lawyer William S. Lerach slipped past the vetting of John Edwards' presidential campaign and was permitted to raise large amounts of money for the Democrat's 2008 bid.

Lerach, his family and members of his new law Lerach Coughlin law firm accounted for nearly $78,000 in donations to Edwards' campaign in the first half of this year, making the trial lawyer one of the North Carolina Democrat's leading "bundlers" of contributions.

In the midst of that fundraising, Lerach negotiated behind the scenes for a plea deal that was consummated on Tuesday and will send him to federal prison for at least 12 months on a conspiracy charge involving his past legal work as partner in the Milberg Weiss law firm.

Through it all, Edwards stood by his fellow trial lawyer and even took an action this spring that was helpful to his longtime financial supporter in a government matter.

In May, Edwards used the bully pulpit of his presidential campaign to publicly pressure the Securities and Exchange Commission not to oppose Lerach's new law firm in a Supreme Court case over whether Lerach's lawsuits could proceed against banks on behalf of investors who lost millions in the collapse of energy giant Enron.

"The question for all Americans is whether their government will be on the side of those big banks or regular families," Edwards said in a statement released by his presidential campaign that was trumpeted on the Web site of Lerach's law firm.

All of this transpired while Edwards campaigned against what he calls a "corroded and corrupt" Washington system in which politicians raise money from special interests who then seek their help on government matters. To make his point, Edwards campaign is refusing any donations from lobbyists registered in Washington.

The latest salvo on that theme came Tuesday -- the day of Lerach's plea deal -- when top Edwards' aide Joe Trippi publicly criticized rival Hillary Clinton's campaign for hosting a fundraiser targeting companies and lobbyists seeking the government's multibillion dollar business.

"Too many in office have fallen under the spell of campaign money at any cost -- and do not see that when they defend the system, they are protecting those that have rigged the game that puts corporate profits ahead of the interests of working Americans," Trippi wrote.

Trippi's attack made no mention of Lerach, the Edwards' bundler, or the fact that Lerach had just reached a plea deal in a scheme prosecutors alleged involved kickback payments to plaintiffs in class action lawsuits he and his former law firm brought.

Lerach and his former law partner Melvyn I. Weiss were notified in the summer of 2005 that they had become targets in that lengthy criminal investigation, meaning they were likely to be indicted, according to lawyers involved in the case.

Court papers say that they employed the scheme for more than two decades in 150 cases that brought their firm more than $200 million in fees.

Milberg Weiss, the New York based law firm where Lerach served as a partner until a bitter parting in 2004, was indicted on conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering charges in May 2006. Lerach and Weiss were not charged at that time but they were notified by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles that they continued to be the targets of their investigation. The firm is fighting the charges. Weiss himself has not been charged with a crime and maintains his innocence.

Political donations by Lerach and his partners, as well as a former expert witness named John Torkelson, came under investigators' scrutiny but the government has not filed criminal charges alleging they broke election laws.
In Lerach's Tuesday agreement to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge, Justice Department lawyers agreed not to prosecute him over "election, campaign, or other political contributions" related to the fees he and the firm collected as part of the alleged kickback scheme with plaintiffs and expert witnesses including Torkelson.

Edwards campaign said it donated Lerach's personal donations to charity yesterday after his guilty plea, but isn't returning the money he raised from others.

As for the statement Edwards issued favorable to Lerach's lawsuits earlier this year, Edwards spokesoman Colleen Murray said: "This position is consistent with John Edwards' longstanding support for protecting the retirement savings of middle class families and shared by many others, including the New York Times editorial page, Securities and Exchange Commission, Senate Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd, and a coalition of consumer groups, to name a few."

Lerach is the latest bundler in the 2008 race whose background has raised questions about how carefully campaigns are vetting those who collect their checks.

Hillary Clinton's campaign earlier this month agreed to give back all $850,000 raised by bundler Norman Hsu after it was learned he had been a fugitive in a 15-year-old criminal case in California.

And Edwards already has faced question about another trial lawyer who raised money from him. Attorney Geoffrey Feiger was indicted on federal charges he conspired to route more than $125,000 in illegal contributions to Edwards' 2004 White House bid .Feiger, a trial lawyer who became famous for representing Dr. Jack Kevorkian during his assisted suicide controversy, has pleaded not guilty. Edwards' campaign said it knew nothing about the alleged scheme and cooperated with the Justice Department. But the campaign has declined to refund the donations in question, choosing instead to wait for the outcome of Feiger's trial to avoid influencing jurors.

"From Day One, the campaign has taken their lead from and cooperated fully with the Department of Justice," spokesman Eric Schultz told The Washington Post in an email earlier this month. "Once this prosecution concludes, if Geoffrey Feiger is found guilty, the campaign will donate all the money is question to charity."


--John Solomon and Carrie Johnson

By Post Editor  |  September 19, 2007; 12:40 PM ET
 
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Comments

"When the right gets caught with dirty fund raisers - its time for the rope.

Look at Abramof vs Hsu and Lerach.

Posted by: VirginiaConservative | September 19, 2007 02:51 PM"

Perhaps you, and Mr. Solomon, should google Alan Fabian. When you're done, if you are an honest person with a lick of sense, you'll question your assumptions thoroughly.

Posted by: zukermand | September 19, 2007 11:09 PM | Report abuse

What happened to the article? Did it get cut off like the Hsu articles. I never got to the part where the fundraiser engaged in ANY improper fundraising activity or the candidate was demonstrated to be aware of the unrelated problems. This is getting frustrating.

Posted by: zukermand | September 19, 2007 11:04 PM | Report abuse

Solomon proves yet again what a hack of a reporter he is. He never gets the facts or checks sources. I cannot believe WaPo would lat this fool keep writing!!!

Posted by: refinish69 | September 19, 2007 10:10 PM | Report abuse

>

Speaking of needing to air one's brains out more often, this clown thinks that paying expenses for a hair stylist is OK. It's like saying "I could get a Big Mac for a buck up at the local McDonald's, but instead I'll order one from Hong Kong and simply pay the added expense of four grand for the first class ticket to get it to me ASAP."

Brilliant comment!

Posted by: Hawaiian_Gecko | September 19, 2007 9:30 PM | Report abuse

This is an extraordinarily bad and biased piece of reporting. Can we call it reporting? It's not exactly that.

Are there not editors at washingtonpost.com? What standard do you use for fairness?

Posted by: zinger1 | September 19, 2007 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Indefenseofjohnedwards,spot on.
Ahender, Wow what can I say, do you really believe you have to BE poor to care about the poor?
Edwards came from nothing, was the first in his family to go to college he represents everyman, what sets him apart is he has attained the American Dream in a grand way, Edwards now wants that opportunity for all Americans. If you have been paying attention the gap between the rich and the poor has grown substantially. The middle class is being decimated. The way you seem to see it is, Edwards should live in poverty to care about it, however that IS where he came from and he has not forgotten. Sure he could play the corporate game and follow the good old boys rules, become a corporate sell-out, the easy way. He has made these issues that he and his family are passionate about the cause of their lives, even when they are not popular stances. Have you noticed HE has been the one leading the debate on all the issues this campaign cycle, everyone else running is scrambling to play catch-up, that's what a Leader does, set the agenda. Not follow...FDR, JFK & RFK were wealthy men that cared about their fellow man, and look at what they were able to achieve. Should he wear rags, sport a beard, live in a hovel, to be worthy enough to champion these causes. No he chooses to be a beacon of hope for all of us to see that the American Dream IS attainable and he honors that possibility by helping others to have hope for their own circumstances. I find it very inspirational. I think about GWB's address to a group at a wealthy fundraiser referring to them as 'his base". In contrast, "We the people" are Edwards base and he will never forget us!

Posted by: asher13 | September 19, 2007 8:41 PM | Report abuse

Check this out from back in 1996:

William S. Lerach and wife Star Soltan, San Diego, Calif. Donated $480,043 since 1993. Party: D. They gave $320,000 in soft money to the Democrats, $53,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Fund, and $65,342 to 66 candidates, nearly all Democrat.

Attendees at a private White House dinner on December 15 may have seen Bill Clinton and William Lerach speaking and shaking hands. What they probably didn't notice was Lerach twisting the president's arm.

Four days later, the president vetoed the Securities Litigation Reform Act. The bill, which makes it more difficult for shareholders to sue their own companies for securities fraud, enjoyed wide bipartisan support, but Clinton startled his party with a last-minute veto. (In late December, Congress overrode the veto handily.)

Clinton's veto seems to have been a "good faith" gesture to Lerach, head of the San Diego office of law firm Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes & Lerach.

http://www.motherjones.com/news/special_reports/coinop_congress/96mojo_400/lerach.html

So, is John Solomon going to link Lerach to the Clintons as well...or is he going to link him to the Clintons while finally mentioning that Lerach didn't do much of anything, because if he has a history with the Clintons, he couldn't POSSSSSSSSIBLY be up to no good, right Solomon?

Posted by: OEST | September 19, 2007 8:06 PM | Report abuse

the same as abramof,abramof was a racist bigot,he should of stood trial on a reserve of our choice,the comments he made about native americans was sick,it shows you how much of a chance palestinians have when you hear this from a card carrying member of aipac.

Posted by: gilliam | September 19, 2007 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Lerach has been a thorn in the side of big business for a long time. What scares them about him is that he's sustainable because he gets rich doing it. It's not a coincidence that a Republican justice department took him down. And it's not a surprise that someone like Edwards, who is not in the big business camp, would like what Lerach stands for.

The dishonest thing about this article is that it doesn't distinguish between corporate lobbyists (the ones Edwards won't take money from) and an anti-corporate figure like Lerach. His crime was paying to obtain standing to sue big business in court. Very different from lobbying congress for lax environmental standards, low wages, and wars.

Obviously guys getting rich suing big business is not an ideal way to police corporate fraud. But when the Reps control congress and won't prosecute such cases, Lerach and his ilk play an important role -- as did Spitzer. If you're against big business in politics, then Edwards' relationship with Lerach is a *good* sign.

Posted by: ramsiw | September 19, 2007 6:37 PM | Report abuse

I'm afraid Edwards is no different than all the others.

He works for a hedge fund and gets over $500,000 for little or no work and says the income "helps me understand the difference between the haves and have nots."

Oh yea, that's a good one.

He builds a 25,000 sq. ft. house but drives a Prius Hybrid to help the environment.

Yea, conservation.

I think to care about a group of people you need to ACT like you care about that group.

Dennis Kucinich is a little left for me, but at least he lives what he preaches.

Edwards, Clinton, and the others do not.

Say NO to all liars and hypocrites.

Posted by: ahender | September 19, 2007 6:17 PM | Report abuse

This is just another hit piece. That's all you can expect from Solomon. They should know we're on to them, but they keep churning them out. There's nothing here that reeks of hypocriscy, it's all a fantasy created by inside the beltway hacks! Yes, it takes a lot of money to win a campaign. Should the candidates do a better job of vetting, yes, but if he's offered to turn the money over to charity, it's a non-issue. Why don't you write about something that matters, like healthcare of restoration of habeus corpus. Please don't waste our time with pablum. It only means something to you because you don't seem to care about anything!

Posted by: jgallagher | September 19, 2007 6:10 PM | Report abuse

If it is all the same with Hsu, I'll just watch Tom "The Hammer" DeLay make thios Drive!

FORE!!!!

Posted by: rat-the | September 19, 2007 6:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm an Obama supporter but it looks like a Clinton hit job to me. Wake up America!

Posted by: JimmieFromDayton | September 19, 2007 5:23 PM | Report abuse

How a hack like Solomon stays employed is beyond me. Must be nepotism.

What garbage. Sad newspaper you've got there, WaPo.

Posted by: spelllaw | September 19, 2007 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Lerach should consider himself fortunate to hooking up with the Edwards campaign and not the Clinton machine. Lerach gets 12 months in a club fed prison and lives to talk about it for screwing up. When you're a lawyer working for Bonnie and Clod and screw up you usually end up with a bullet in your head and your body is taken to Fort Marcy (Vince Foster) or inside a military 737 in Croatia (Ron Brown)

Posted by: monteman | September 19, 2007 4:55 PM | Report abuse

And yet another reason everyone should vote for Barack Obama. Edwards and Hillary have Washington experience. They've read the unwritten Washington experience book:
"How to get tons of dirty money while creating plausible deniablity"

Lets get rid of these jokers and get Obama in there.

Posted by: mageduley | September 19, 2007 4:26 PM | Report abuse

What did Lerach do? He paid people to be name plaintiffs in class-action suits, and kept a stable of professional class-action plaintiffs. When the cases were settled, the 'stable members' got more money -something like 10 percent of the legal fees that the law firm earned which were by their nature, not available to the other members of the class - than those who were actually harmed.

Posted by: GRILLADES | September 19, 2007 4:12 PM | Report abuse

I don't care if John Edwards gets $14 hair cuts or $4000 hair cuts, and neither should anyone else. He's not perfect, he's human, and he really cares about the issues facing the American people. I'm just grateful somebody does, even though he doesn't get the kind of media coverage he should. Go ahead, WaPo, and keep supporting Hillary. She'll never win and then look what we'll be stuck with - Rudy or Fred. Oh, goody.

Posted by: skpedersen | September 19, 2007 4:00 PM | Report abuse

John Edwards is the only "real person" running. The rest are CEO's of Slavery Incorporated owned by the New World Order. Save the USA. Down with Big Brother.

Posted by: georgebush84 | September 19, 2007 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Right, the bias is from the Post's news team, not from the candidate's supporters.

Guys, the news is that everyone has known dor a while that Lerach is heading to jail. He's easily the biggest name in the securities lawsuit business.

Nobody's saying there was quid pro quo. It's just not good to be associated with this kind of bundler. Same goes if Ken Lay was your bundler.

Posted by: gla4 | September 19, 2007 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Lerach makes donation, Edwards writes memo in support of Lerach. It might not be quid pro quo, but I wouldn't fault anyone for coming to than conclusion.

Posted by: JohnHD1 | September 19, 2007 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Bill Lerach is not ONE OF US. You big Duh!

Posted by: Tupac_Goldstein | September 19, 2007 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Bad, biased reporting here folks. Come on WaPo, you sound like a Hilary campaign poster here. Where's the news?

Posted by: thebobbob | September 19, 2007 3:09 PM | Report abuse

What, exactly, is it that Mr. Lerach did? It was some kind of kickback to the plaintiffs? Isn't he working for the plaintiffs? A few details on the crime would be appreciated.
That said, if someone commits a crime and donates to a candidate, it would hardly seem that the candidate can take the blame for it, barring knowledge of the crime.
It does seem to be a bit of a hit piece, but I would question whether it came from one of the other candidates or someone representing the Enron clients. Again, proof, please.

Posted by: capemh | September 19, 2007 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Why is it when the left gets caught with dirty fund raisers - they very innocently "slip past the vetting."

When the right gets caught with dirty fund raisers - its time for the rope.

Look at Abramof vs Hsu and Lerach.

Posted by: VirginiaConservative | September 19, 2007 02:51 PM

Anyone who thinks this is anything like what Jack Abaramof did is too dumb to even talk to.

Posted by: OEST | September 19, 2007 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and buy the way $78,000 out of $23,000,000 is only 0.34%, or less than HALF OF 1% of all of the money that Edwards raised in the first quarter.

First two quarters.

Why is it when the left gets caught with dirty fund raisers - they very innocently "slip past the vetting."

When the right gets caught with dirty fund raisers - its time for the rope.

Look at Abramof vs Hsu and Lerach.

Posted by: VirginiaConservative | September 19, 2007 02:51 PM

Anyone who thinks this is anything like what Jack Abaramof did is too dumb to even talk to.

The article asserts the individual "slipped by" Edwards' vetters while at the same time Edwards had tried to help him? Sure, and Edwards gets $14 haircuts, too!

Posted by: filoporquequilo | September 19, 2007 02:51 PM

Actually, most hair cuts that Edwards gets are cheap, just like the watch that he wears is cheap. The expensive hair cuts were done by a hair stylist in preperation for major media appearances, and they were expensive because of travel expenses, not the haircuts alone.

You people really need to get YOUR BRAINS out more.

Posted by: OEST | September 19, 2007 2:59 PM | Report abuse

The article asserts the individual "slipped by" Edwards' vetters while at the same time Edwards had tried to help him? Sure, and Edwards gets $14 haircuts, too!

Posted by: filoporquequilo | September 19, 2007 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Why is it when the left gets caught with dirty fund raisers - they very innocently "slip past the vetting."

When the right gets caught with dirty fund raisers - its time for the rope.

Look at Abramof vs Hsu and Lerach.

Posted by: VirginiaConservative | September 19, 2007 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Typical John Solomon hatchet piece.

How exactly was the edwards campaign supposed to know what was being negotiated? Are you saying he is supposed to have microphones in grand jury rooms?

Absolutely pitful, Solomon. You are as piss-poor an excuse for a reporter as there is working today. Are you taking notes from Nedra Pickler?

Posted by: dailykos1 | September 19, 2007 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Wow, the media are doing all they can to try and scare the SEIU away from John Edwards, aren't they?

Lereach raised money for John Edwards. Was Lereach a Washington lobbyist?

If he wasn't then him GETTING IN TROUBLE WITH THE LAW is not a sign of hypocrisy, so go somewhere and get a brain, Washington Post.

John Edwards criticized Hillary Clinton for taking money from WASHINGTON LOBBYIST.

He hasn't said jacksquat about Hillary Clinton getting money from HSU.

If he'd have done the latter, then you might have a point.

John Edwards does have a point. Washington lobbyists HAVE RIGGED THE SYSTEM against regular Americans, by buying legislative favors in return for campaign donations.

I haven't seen anything in this CLINTON FUNNELED HIT PIECE on John Edwards to imply that Lereach was a DC lobbyist trying to buy favor.

As such, you can drop the hypocrisy crap. If a college student donates to John Edwards and then goes and downloads 1,000 songs online without paying for them, are you also going to blame John Edwards for that?

What if someone donates to John Edwards, and then goes out and buys some porn? Are you going to link Edwards to the porn industry.

MEDIA, YOU ARE REACHING. You are a joke. You blame John Edwards for other people doing wrong. Shouldn't the focus of your story be about WHAT EDWARDS HAS DONE TO END THE SITUATION, instead of what the people who got into trouble did?

Of course it should be, but that wouldn't be a smear, so you can't have any of that.

Oh, and buy the way $78,000 out of $23,000,000 is only 0.34%, or less than HALF OF 1% of all of the money that Edwards raised in the first quarter.

For you to even act like it's a major story is to try and literally create a MOUNTAIN OUT OF A MOLE HILL!

Posted by: OEST | September 19, 2007 2:50 PM | Report abuse

If you go by his spoken principles, John Edwards is a dream come true.

If you go by his actions, he currently is TOPS among political hypocrites.

Posted by: ahender | September 19, 2007 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Cue the hysterical comments accusing Solomon of being a neocon, Zionist water-carrier for the Republicans . . . .

Posted by: WashingtonDame | September 19, 2007 2:44 PM | Report abuse

WaPo proving once again it's nothing but a media beard for the Clinton campaign. Sad, sad state of affairs, but keep it up, the American people are starting to see through what you are continually 'attempting' to do.

John Edwards 2008 "The Peoples President" one of us, fighting for all of us, and returning the government back to 'the people'.

Posted by: asher13 | September 19, 2007 2:20 PM | Report abuse

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