Very clearly, one of the most interesting legal stories of 2007 was the criminal prosecution of renowned class action lawyers William Lerach, Dickey Scruggs and Melvin Weiss. Lerach, together with other members of the former Milberg Weiss firm, entered a plea agreement and likely will serve jail time. Scruggs and Weiss have vowed to fight the charges through trial.
Some will celebrate these prosecutions as a form of poetic justice. That, in my view, would be shortsighted. It would be far better if they caused critical judicial and legislative examination of the legal circumstances that gave rise to the conduct at issue.
With any luck, this heightened scrutiny will create greater impetus for real class action reform and will encourage judges to look more critically at the class action litigation and settlement process. Among other things, these cases could lead to stronger ethical rules governing the commencement of litigation, if not real criminal penalties for lawyers who invent lawsuits and then invent clients
to file them.
Charles A. James is vice president and general counsel for Chevron Corp.