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No. 8 , William Lerach



Estimated net worth: $900 million

The famous shareholder rights attorney was recently summed up this way by the Sunday Times, a British newspaper: “With his mop of curly white hair, Lerach looks like a well-fed Harpo Marx. A Robin Hood to some, a thug to others, Lerach has won billions from companies he has accused of ripping off shareholders. His hard-fighting style has often led to his opposition cutting a deal before going to court.”

The San Diego attorney represented Enron Corp.’s shareholders, with some success. In November, William Lerach won a $72.5 million settlement from Arthur Andersen, the now-defunct accounting firm that had been Enron’s auditor. Lerach’s firm, Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins LLP, with offices in San Diego, has already won $8 billion in settlements from Enron banks JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Lehman Brothers.

Now he’s after the British banks, Barclay’s and Royal Bank of Scotland. Those two banks reportedly were named by Andrew Fastow, Enron’s former chief financial officer, as main players in propping up the company’s financials. Fastow, who just began serving a six-year jail sentence for his role in the scandal, wrote a 175-page deposition implicating the two British banks, according to the United Kingdom’s Sunday Times. Lerach is using Fastow’s allegations to force the two banks to settle for $30 billion in shareholder losses.

Winning cases for shareholders has made Lerach, 60, a rich man and earned him the monikers of “King of Torts,” and “The King of Pain.” He has a home in Rancho Santa Fe, and Fortune Magazine reports vacation properties in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and Hawaii, and that he travels the country in a chartered jet. He told the magazine his exercise is drinking Scotch.

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Nevertheless, he’s had to deal with some angst from his side of the court.

His former firm, New York City-based Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman, which he left in May 2004 as the result of an internal feud, was indicted in May for allegedly paying kickbacks to people to serve as puppet plaintiffs in more than 150 lawsuits. Partners indicted were David Bershad and Steven Schulman. The firm has denied any wrongdoing. Lerach was not named in the indictment.

Lerach, meanwhile, has been a long-time contributor to the Democratic Party.

, Mark Larson

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