The University of California got some good news out of Texas this morning: U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon granted its request for reimbursement in a chunk of the ongoing Enron litigation, letting the UC Regents get paid for some expensive expert fees they’ve wracked up as lead plaintiff in several class actions against Enron and associated companies.
That includes the $125,000-a-month consulting fee that was being paid to Lawrence Irving, a retired federal judge the regents had hired to serve as a liaison with the lead counsel in the case, Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, and to advise UC on its responsibilities as lead plaintiff.
While Irving’s fee may be a small piece of the more than $7 billion in settlements the Lerach firm has extracted from the Enron defendants so far — “the largest class action settlement in the world to date,” William Lerach said in a Tuesday phone call — it would’ve been a noticeable piece of the UC payroll had Harmon not ordered that settlement funds go to reimburse the school.
That’s because the UC system is under ongoing scrutiny from state legislators since the San Francisco Chronicle began a series in November on the university’s allegedly high compensation for top employees. According to a database compiled by the Chronicle, Irving’s pay — as outlined in a deal he signed in late July guaranteeing two years at $1.5 million a year, plus two additional years that Irving had the option to renew — would put him among the university system’s top five highest-compensated employees, making about $62,000 a year less than UC-Berkeley football coach Jeff Tedfords.
Of course, Irving’s salary stopped being a concern at all for Berkeley at the beginning of this month, when his contract was shifted from UC to the Lerach firm, where he plans to continue advising the university. Also, Lerach and Irving said this week, he will serve as an adviser and liaison with other large institutional clients.
Irving’s move was largely seen as a PR coup for the Lerach firm, with the retired judge offering a public statement of confidence just as Lerach’s former firm, Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman was about to be indicted for allegedly paying kickbacks to clients. And while it may have helped get a potentially big paycheck off UC’s books, Lerach, Irving and a spokesman for the regents said that was never a concern.
Linking the move to the pay controversy, UC spokesman Trey Davis wrote in an e-mail, would be “so far off base, it’s not even funny.”
— Justin Scheck