The alliance between the now-deposed king of class actions and the baron of the white collar bar is broken.
We’d been curious for months why San Francisco defense attorney John Keker wouldn’t return our calls when his client, plaintiff lawyer William Lerach, got in trouble for offering football tickets to a prison guard. Turns out the two legal titans parted ways. Among the reasons: Lerach was upset that he didn’t get into the Bureau of Prison’s residential substance abuse treatment program, according to two sources familiar with the situation. Lerach subsequently retained a San Diego white collar lawyer to represent him.
Read more after the jump.
Keker steered Lerach through the lengthy federal investigation into kickbacks at Lerach’s former firm, Milberg Weiss. And Keker negotiated a deal that was widely seen as favorable for the plaintiff lawyer: Lerach pled guilty before getting indicted. He agreed to a maximum 24 months in prison. After some seething, Central District Judge John Walter approved the deal and sentenced Lerach to the two years, to be served in a minimum security prison camp. By way of comparison, Lerach’s cohort Melvin Weiss got 30 months after his indictment.
Just a few weeks after Lerach turned himself in at Lompoc, Keker filed a motion asking that the judge recommend him for the treatment program. Requests for a substance abuse recommendation are usually made at sentencing.
The substance abuse program is seen by some corporate convicts as a ticket to early release, according to a recent Forbes piece. Keker supplied four letters from Lerach's doctors attesting to Lerach’s alcohol problem. Even so, the program wouldn’t have helped Lerach: according to Bureau of Prisons policy, an inmate must face at least 28 months to be eligible.
Walter rejected the request without offering explanation.
Lerach wasn't happy. By the time the plaintiff lawyer got bounced from the prison camp, Keker was no longer responding to requests for comment on his behalf.
Keker wouldn't be interviewed by Legal Pad. When emailed an overview of what we were writing, he called it “false,” but would not elaborate. Lerach’s new attorney, Michael Lipman of Coughlan, Semmer & Lipman, recorded our questions over the phone, but did not call us back.
Legal Pad’s theory is that Lerach got a bit of buyer’s remorse upon entering the clink, and took it out on his lawyer. In any case, the king is now in captivity at a low security institution near Safford, Ariz., where he is no doubt feeling no angst about the collapse of Wall Street transpiring without him.
— Dan Levine