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Still Waiting for the Congressional Hearings

In his latest column, "Stones Left Unturned," Kenneth Jost of CQ Press lists the predations of Melvyn Weiss and William Lerach, their decades of offenses angrily denied.

Today, those denials are inoperative, the firm has broken up, and Lerach and Weiss are headed to federal prisons after pleading guilty to felony charges. But the head of the American Tort Reform Association, Sherman Joyce, says the full story of ethical misconduct by plaintiffs' lawyers in securities fraud suits remains to be written -- and he wants Congress to investigate.

Joyce notes that, in a pre-sentencing interview with The Wall Street Journal, Lerach claimed his firm was just following an "industry practice" when it solicited and then paid shareholders who served as plaintiffs in securities suits. If Congress has time to investigate steroid use by baseball players, Joyce says, it ought to have time as well to look into the extent of unethical conduct over the years by plaintiffs lawyers in securities cases.

Hard to disagree. In fact, it's such a strong argument, others have made it as well. There was the March 21st editorial in The Wall Street Journal, "The Felony Bar," which asked, "In the wake of the felony admissions of Weiss and Lerach and last week's bribery plea by Dickie Scruggs, where are the cries in Congress to crack down on these wealthy wrongdoers who abused their positions of legal trust?" The same day The Examiner made a similar point in "Four felony guilty pleas, but Congress sees no evil," asking, "Doesn't anybody in Congress wonder about copycat crimes?"

Come to think of it, we proposed something along those lines at Shopfloor.org last October:

It is time for high-profile investigations and oversight hearings from Congress into the lawsuit industry, demanding accountability from these spoilers. Let's investigate their impact on the economy, the abusive model that Milberg-Weiss established, and the harm their predations do to the children. Make the witnesses take the Fifth, if it comes to that. At the very least, the public shaming will serve an educational and deterrent effect.
Still, no hearings. Strange. Wonder why.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.