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US: Law firm seeks nearly $700 mil for Enron pacts

by Martha GraybowReuters
November 21st, 2007

The law firm that helped win $7.2 billion in settlements for Enron investors is seeking nearly $700 million in legal fees for itself and other attorneys who handled the case, according to court documents.

The payout to the firm -- now called Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins LLP after the departure of founder William Lerach -- would, if approved by a federal judge, be the biggest amount ever in a securities fraud case.

A top partner at the firm, meanwhile, disputed a report in the online edition of the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that said that Lerach, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in a criminal case, is in line to recover as much as $50 million personally from the proposed fee distribution.

Lerach retired in August. He is considered the chief architect of the Enron settlements reached with Citigroup Inc., JP Morgan Chase & Co. and other defendants accused of helping Enron hide financial misdeeds.

Any set fee amount that Lerach would receive from the Enron settlements is speculative, said Patrick Coughlin, a co-founder of the San Diego-based law practice.

"The judge has to approve any fee in the case, then we have to pay out all of our counsel and other obligations before any distributions are made, so any set amount is purely speculative," Coughlin said.

According to a filing with the U.S. District Court in Houston, Coughlin Stoia is seeking about 9.5 percent of the total settlement amount, which would equal nearly $700 million. The firm is requesting a court hearing on the fee request.

Lerach has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to participating in a kickbacks scheme at his former law firm, Milberg Weiss LLP, which also is facing criminal charges and has pleaded not guilty. Coughlin Stoia does not face charges in the case.

Lerach, who awaits sentencing, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Recently, a group of plaintiffs firms sought about $460 million in fees following settlements in a securities fraud case against Tyco International Ltd. That request is awaiting court approval.

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