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SACRAMENTO � A tort reform group has called on state politicians to return five years’ worth of campaign contributions from the troubled Milberg Weiss firm, calling the donations “dirty money.” Seizing on the firm’s highly publicized woes, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse chairman John Merchant said in a statement Monday that his organization will send letters to officeholders and candidates asking them to return Milberg Weiss contributions. Merchant said CALA would monitor their responses on its Web site. “This firm has donated heftily through the years to candidates on both sides of the aisle, but now everyone knows it’s dirty money, made at the expense of California jobs and the economy,” Merchant said. In May, a federal grand jury indicted class action giant Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman and two name partners on charges of using kickbacks to entice plaintiffs to initiate lawsuits. Partners David Bershad and Steven Schulman pleaded not guilty last month. “Clearly, CALA is seeking to exploit the publicity surrounding the indictment to advance its own political agenda,” said Milberg Weiss spokeswoman Marina Ein. “In doing so, they’ve ignored the presumption of innocence that is a fundamental principal of our legal system. The firm is innocent of the charges against it, and expects to be fully vindicated.” Roger Salazar, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who is now running for treasurer, said Lockyer has donated $5,000 in contributions from the two indicted Milberg partners to a nonprofit group, Project California. Lockyer has no immediate plans to return other donations. “We’re not too worried about what CALA has to say,” Salazar said. “Bill Lockyer has a very long record of doing right by the citizens of California. He’s always said that if people contribute to him, they should do so expecting neither fear nor favor.” Milberg Weiss has been a relatively minor contributor to state candidates over the last two years. Filings with the Secretary of State’s office show the firm gave $70,000 to defeat two ultimately unsuccessful initiatives in the Nov. 2005 special election, one aimed at curbing labor unions’ spending and a second that would have changed California’s political map-drawing process. In June 2005, Milberg Weiss donated $10,000 to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides and $3,000 to his primary opponent Steve Westly. A spokesman for Angelides’ campaign didn’t return a phone call Tuesday. Milberg Weiss was much more active in California politics prior to the 2004 split of what was known as Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach. In the years prior to the breakup, that firm doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to the California Democratic Party, Lockyer and the Consumer Attorneys Political Action Committee. Former Milberg Weiss partner William Lerach and his new firm, Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins have also contributed almost $200,000 over the last two years to campaigns and Democratic candidates, including John Garamendi, Jerry Brown and Rockard “Rocky” Delgadillo. CALA has not called on recipients to return campaign money from Lerach or his law firm, although federal authorities have investigated Lerach in connection with the Milberg Weiss charges. Former gubernatorial candidate Westly returned $92,000 in contributions from Lerach and other current and former Milberg Weiss partners, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Wall Street Journal also reported in July that New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a candidate for governor in that state, returned roughly $125,000 from Milberg Weiss attorneys. CALA is a frequent critic of plaintiffs firms like Milberg Weiss. Although CALA claims grassroots support from 30,000 members in California, the watchdog group Public Citizen and the Center for Justice & Democracy reported in 2000 that tax and lawsuit filings show CALA and its sister organizations throughout the country have received substantial financing from large corporations.

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