Friday, December 19, 2008
The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department has entered an order disbarring Milberg Weiss partner Melvin Weiss.
...respondent admitted that beginning around the 1970's and continuing at least into 2005, he and other individuals at Milberg Weiss, entered into secret, illegal kickbacks with a cohort of persons who were essentially on call to act as lead plaintiffs in class actions. The Milberg Weiss partners who agreed to this secret pay arrangement to certain named plaintiffs included, among others, William Lerach, David Bershad, and Steven Schulman ("the conspiring partners"). The individuals, who received the secret kickbacks to serve as lead plaintiffs in the class actions ("paid plaintiffs") included Howard Vogel, Seymour Lazar, Steven Cooperman and three individuals who resided in Florida. This arrangement permitted Milberg Weiss to file lawsuits faster and to gain the position as lead counsel to receive higher legal fees.
Respondent further admitted that he agreed to the secret payment agreement between Milberg Weiss and Lazar; he was aware of the payment arrangements between Milberg Weiss and the Florida plaintiffs, and personally made a cash payment to one of those plaintiffs in the late 1980's; and he was aware of the payment arrangement between Milberg Weiss and Cooperman, to whom he personally made at least one payment by check. In addition, respondent and others caused Milberg Weiss to issue checks to intermediary law firms, lawyers and other professionals with the intent and understanding that the money would be distributed to the paid plaintiffs. Respondent and others' also knew that although these payments were falsely described [*3]as, among other things, "referral fees" or "professional fees" owed by Milberg Weiss to the intermediaries, they were actually disguised kickbacks to the paid plaintiffs.
Additionally, respondent and others knew they had to conceal their payment scheme with the paid plaintiffs from the federal and state courts presiding over the class actions by making and causing to be made false and/or misleading statements in documents filed in class actions (including complaints, motions and certifications) and in testimony and discovery documents. Absent such concealment, there was a risk of disqualification because the kickbacks created an apparent conflict of interest between the paid plaintiffs and the class members they purported to represent. Respondent admitted that he knew the secret arrangement was improper. Among the false and/or misleading statements one or more of the conspiring partners caused to be submitted to the court in connection with four class actions were certifications by Cooperman, Lazar, and Vogel that they would not accept any payment for serving as a representative party beyond their pro rata shares of any recovery. These certifications falsely represented the true nature of Milberg Weiss' payment arrangement with the paid plaintiffs and constituted four racketeering acts that formed a "pattern of racketeering activity" under 18 USC § 1961(1) and (5).
The predicate for the disbarment was the underlying criminal conviction. Because the federal crimes were "essentially similar" to New York felonies, automatic disbarment was imposed. (Mike Frisch)