Strange as it may seem, many (misguided) people dislike lawyers, deriding their character, disparaging their reputation for honesty and questioning their parentage. Such people are wont to collect and endlessly repeat stories about lawyers’ indiscretions – as if that really proved anything. They point, for example, to Scott W. Rothstein, accused of running a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme. Picky, picky. Bernie Madoff ran a $50 billion Ponzi scheme and he wasn’t a lawyer.
They point to Marc Dreier, who employed an elaborate theater of impersonations in the sale of forged promissory notes backed by defunct companies or companies whose principals he impersonated. Well, heck. Who doesn’t like good theater?
Melvyn Weiss and William S. Lerach, the founders of the (infamous) Milberg Weiss LLP law firm, who paid clients $11.3 million, over a 25-year period, to act as lead plaintiffs in more than 175 class action lawsuits. After all the years of clients paying lawyers, what’s wrong with a few lawyers finally paying clients?
William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham represented about 440 clients in a class action suit alleging that Fen-phen, a Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc. product, caused heart valve injuries and primary pulmonary hypertension, an often fatal disease. After collecting about $200 million from Wyeth, they kept about $94.6 million, although they were entitled to only $60 million. So they gave themselves a small bonus – it was a heartfelt gift. While Bill and Shirley were convicted of eight counts of fraud, a third lawyer, Melbourne Mills Jr., was acquitted after claiming that his alcoholism left him incapable of forming the intent to commit fraud. Really, attacking the handicapped!
The judge who heard the Fen-phen case was forced from the bench when it was discovered that he had increased the fees and expenses awarded to the plaintiffs as a favor to Bill, Shirley and Mel and a friend involved in the case. Have we stooped so low as to fault a man for helping his friends?
THE LESSON TO BE LEARNED: As we have clearly shown, this carping about minor indiscretions committed by lawyers is highly overblown. Lawyers are all fine folks, albeit with perhaps a few excusable imperfections.