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A prominent tort reform group has a new idea for attacking out-of-control litigation: more lawsuits. That was the theme of an online seminar Thursday morning by the conservative Washington Legal Foundation, the champion of free markets, constraints on litigation and rollbacks of government regulation. The group — which has become known for filing objections to plaintiffs lawyers’ fee requests — is now advocating for a new type of litigation: shareholder suits against plaintiffs lawyers famous (they would say infamous) for bringing shareholder suits. The occasion, of course, is the highly public federal investigation of the plaintiffs firm formerly known as Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach. As prosecutors continue to pursue former lawyers of that firm — it split up last year, with San Diego-based star partner William Lerach forming his own firm, Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins — the Washington Legal Foundation aims to piggyback on the allegations by giving the country’s top shareholder plaintiffs attorneys a dose of their own litigiousness. “A taste of their own medicine might be poetic justice,” said Paul Kamenar, the group’s senior executive counsel and an outspoken critic of securities litigation. The muse behind Kamenar’s idea for litigious poesy is Seymour Lazar, the lead plaintiff in many Milberg Weiss suits who was indicted by federal prosecutors in June for allegedly taking payments from the firm (Milberg Weiss and its former lawyers have not been charged). In his Thursday morning seminar, Kamenar suggested that allegations in that indictment could form the basis for a wide range of suits by former class members from Milberg Weiss suits. “To the extent that shareholders were either defrauded or misled,” he said in an interview Wednesday, “or kickbacks were given, there should be some liability, to be sure.” For example, Kamenar said the former class members could sue over fraud claims, unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duty (if lawyers put lead plaintiffs’ interests ahead of the rest of the class) and — for good measure — civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act violations. In the seminar, titled “Trial Lawyers’ Enron” after a Wall Street Journal editorial about the indictments, Kamenar criticized the plaintiffs lawyers and spent time discussing a suit in San Francisco federal court that the Washington Legal Foundation has been researching for years. In that U.S. district court case, Henry v. Terayon, 00-CV-1967, Lerach’s named plaintiff is a short-seller, who, Kamenar said, worked to drive down a company’s stock price and then sued executives over the fraud that allegedly caused the price to drop. The SEC, he said, is investigating the case. Kamenar — who conducted the seminar solo, since another scheduled panelist canceled at the last minute — said afterward that he’s optimistic about the chances of suing the plaintiffs lawyers. “We would be prepared to file such a case,” he said. “The foundation is looking to file such a legal action.” Joseph Grundfest, a securities expert at Stanford Law School and frequent critic of the plaintiffs bar, said Thursday that he has heard little about the idea of private civil suits in connection with the federal investigation. “All of this seems premature until we know what allegations, if any, are going to be made against the firm and individual attorneys,” he said. And Robert Lieff, a securities plaintiffs lawyer and partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, agreed. “I hadn’t thought about it,” he said. “It seems bizarre to me.” But to Kamenar, bizarre or not, the idea has irresistible appeal. “It would be kind of ironic,” he said in the seminar, “to have a class action against Milberg Weiss.”

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