Judge Drops Milberg Case, Citing Conflict

The sizable club of lawyers who want nothing to do with last week’s indictment of Milberg Weiss has gained a new member: L.A. federal Judge Dean Pregerson. The judge had handled the case since June, when it kicked off with the indictment of former Milberg client Seymour Lazar — accused of taking kickbacks from the firm — and Lazar’s lawyer, Paul Selzer, suspected conduit for those payments.

In an order recusing himself from the case, Pregerson wrote that “when the Court applied for appointment to the bench, a partner of defendant firm, William Lerach, was among the various legal, business and elected officials who wrote supporting the application.”

“Further, the Court has presided over at least one lawsuit that I can recall which was brought by the defendant firm on behalf of its clients,” he continued. “In the course of that lawsuit, the Court issued orders which, among other matters, approved attorneys’ fees and costs. The Court anticipates that issues involving the work done by the firm in connection with its various cases and the fees it received, will be a subject of the trial. Therefore, because the Court is mindful of the necessity to avoid presiding over matters in which its impartiality might be reasonably questioned, recusal is appropriate.”

It’s not clear whether anyone else on the L.A. federal bench got a recommendation from Lerach, the former Milberg star partner who left in 2004 to form Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, and who remains unindicted — though the Milberg indictment accuses him (as “Partner B”) of several illegal acts. What is clear is that the judge to whom the case has been assigned, Christina Snyder, is no stranger to Milberg Weiss. She has presided over several cases involving the firm, including an ongoing series of suits against the oil and gas industries filed by Milberg.

Justin Scheck

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