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Of the more than 150 letters requesting that a federal judge grant leniency to securities plaintiff’s lawyer William S. Lerach this week, the vast majority come from some of the nation’s most prominent lawyers, judges and law professors. Lerach, a former partner at Milberg Weiss, was sentenced to two years in federal prison on Monday as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors reached last year. His lawyer, John Keker, of San Francisco’s Keker & Van Nest, had sought six months in prison and six months home confinement. Federal prosecutors assert that Lerach and several other partners at Milberg Weiss generated more than $250 million in attorney fees by paying secret and illegal payments to name plaintiffs in more than 150 class action and shareholder lawsuits. On Monday, U.S. District Judge John Walter, for the Central District of California, acknowledged the numerous letters filed on Lerach’s behalf, citing references to a “kind and generous individual who cares deeply” and “one of the most honest individuals they’ve met.” “I cannot imagine how he lost his moral compass,” Walter said, before concluding that Lerach’s criminal acts “favor a substantial prison sentence.” Few of the letters address the criminal case against him. While noting Lerach’s numerous legal accomplishments, most rely heavily on his character, referring to the strength of his “word” or “handshake.” The list includes plaintiffs in Lerach’s cases, his gardener, the owner of an aquarium business and several politicians, such as U.S. Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. But most come from the legal profession. About 20 current and former lawyers, and employees, at Lerach’s former firms, San Diego-based Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, and Milberg Weiss, filed letters supporting him. Although none of the name partners of Coughlin Stoia wrote letters, several other partners did, including Randi Bandman, Helen L. Hodges, G. Paul Howes, Keith F. Park and Henry Rosen. Many of the letters come from plaintiff’s lawyers who worked alongside Lerach on several cases. Among the most prominent plaintiff’s lawyers are: Martin Chitwood, a partner at plaintiff’s firm Chitwood Harley Harnes in Atlanta; Samuel “Skip” Keesal, partner at Keesal, Young & Logan in Long Beach, Calif.; and Sherrie R. Savett, chairwoman of the securities litigation department at Philadelphia-based Berger & Montague. Steve Berman, managing partner of Seattle-based Hagens Berman Sobol & Shapiro, said he decided to start his own firm partly because of Lerach’s teachings and example. “I had come from a large defense firm where we were taught that plaintiffs class action lawyers were lawyers who failed to get a job at the big firms ­ hence they were second class,” Berman wrote in the letter. “One of my favorite teachers was Bill. Bill had an uncanny ability to see corporate wrongdoing where others did not and was unwavering in his desire and efforts to right that wrongdoing.” Cuneo, Gilbert & LaDuca, a Washington-based firm that lobbied for investor groups during the passage of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, provided four letters, including those from founding member Jonathan Cuneo and partner Pamela Gilbert. A few prominent defense lawyers advocated for Lerach, including Gregory Markel, chairman of the litigation department at New York-based Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft; Tower Snow, former chairman of now-defunct Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison; Jerold Solovy, chairman emeritus of Chicago’s Jenner & Block; Brad S. Karp, co-chairman of the litigation department at New York’s Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; and Ralph C. Ferrara, former general counsel of the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission and co-chairman of the securities, mergers & acquisitions and corporate governance litigation practice group at Dewey & LeBoeuf. Some lawyers who wrote support letters are involved in the selection of the nation’s judges, such as Wylie Aitken, founding partner of Aitken Aitken Cohn in Santa Ana, Calif. Aitken has served on the Democratic-lead federal judiciary advisory committee for the Central District of California that recommends the appointment of federal district judges. Several judges, most of them retired, expressed support for Lerach, as well. They include federal judges Joe Kendall, Harry R. McCue, Dickran Tevrizian and Robert Aguilar, who was convicted of disclosing a wiretap in 1990 but later acquitted. He resigned in 1996. California state judges include Daniel H. Weinstein, Edward J. Wallin, Howard B. Wiener, James R. Milliken and Vincent P. DiFiglia. Finally, several current and former professors filed letters urging leniency in Lerach’s sentence. Some served as experts in Lerach’s cases. Several came from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Lerach’s alma mater, including Dean Mary Crossley, who proposed that Lerach teach ethics at the school as part of his possible home confinement, and Mark A. Nordenberg, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh and former dean of the law school, who referenced Lerach’s scholarship contributions to the university. At the University of San Diego School of Law, letters came from C. Hugh Friedman, Frank Partnoy and James C. Krause, an adjunct professor who specializes in securities class actions. Other professors include: Richard M. Buxbaum, associate dean at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law; Eric D. Green, a part-time professor at Boston University School of Law; and Manning G. Warren, professor at the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law.

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