The federal indictment of New York City-based law firm Milberg Weiss on charges it extorted money out of large corporations by paying faux plaintiffs to help it manufacture class action lawsuits should serve as a stern warning to state governments everywhere.
Hiring private, self-interested attorneys to do the people's bidding is a really bad idea.
Here in West Virginia, we're still waiting for Milberg Weiss' local patron to explain himself. Attorney General Darrell McGraw has yet to utter a single word about those serious ethical and criminal charges against the law firm he vouched and shilled for, entrusting it with the public's business.
Our country roads couldn't take these jet-setting attorneys home, but members of the biggest and baddest class action law firm in America no doubt thought West Virginia was "almost heaven."
Not long ago, McGraw and his staff literally fawned over Milberg Weiss, carting name partner Melvyn Weiss around Charleston like he was the Dalai Lama. Actively and avidly pitching that the state should serve as a lead plaintiff in lawsuits Weiss concocted, Assistant AG Fran Hughes went so far as to call him a "legend" who "lived up to his reputation."
If she meant Weiss' reputation for filing frivolous lawsuits against law-abiding, job-providing businesses, all in an effort to squeeze fees for his law firm, then Hughes was right on.
Milberg Weiss sued Lucent Technologies on behalf of a West Virginia Teamsters local. A firm offshoot helped a Pennsylvania man lead a shareholder lawsuit against Massey Energy, one of West Virginia's largest employers, over $1,800 in stock losses. And most lucratively, the firm used its "exclusive" representation of our state's Investment Management Board, which manages $8 billion in state employee pension money, as a platform to sue and shakedown countless companies across the U.S.
Milberg Weiss pocketed $98 million for its role in suing Lucent. In the Massey case, shareholders got zilch, but the lawyers got $2.5 million. And in one of many cases filed on behalf of our state pensioners, telcommunications company Worldcom settled, coughing up $2.3 million for West Virginia and $85 million for the lawyers.
Legends are made, indeed.
It's bad enough that these shysters are allowed to so twist and contort our justice system so as to enrich just themselves. But at bare minimum, we taxpayers should expect our state not to be an active conspirator in the con.
AG McGraw should disavow any support for Milberg Weiss and other money-hungry firms like it. West Virginia can fight its own fights.