Three months ago, the dozens of lawyers litigating the massive securities class action against Network Associates considered retired San Jose lawyer Robert Vatuone’s application to serve as lead plaintiff only long enough to snicker at it.

After all, Vatuone was just a lone investor in the anti-virus software maker who claimed he lost $30,000 due to Network Associates’ alleged financial chicanery. And Vatuone was competing against giant institutional investors such as the city of Philadelphia and foreign equity funds, each claiming millions of dollars worth of losses. Not only that, but the seminal Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 requires judges to pick institutional investors as lead plaintiffs as often as they can.