Peter Elkind of The Smartest Guys in the Room fame has now turned his sights toward class-action plaintiff’s law firm, Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman (prior posts here). In this lengthy article (hat tip to Peter Lattman) entitled The law firm of Hubris Hypocrisy & Greed, Elkind uses his same irreverent Smartest Guys-style in telling the tale of how Milberg Weiss became a criminal defendant. For example, take Elkind’s description of L.A. lawyer-entreprenuer, Seymour Lazar, who the government alleges took illegal kickbacks from Milberg Weiss:
When Lazar appeared in federal court in L.A. earlier this year after being charged with fraud, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice in the Milberg Weiss case, it seemed a miracle he was still alive. A small, wild-haired man, Lazar, now 79, sat in a wheelchair and listened to the proceedings with a hearing aid. Later court filings detailing his medical history – and asking for the charges to be dismissed because the stress of a trial was likely to kill him – reported that Lazar was suffering from congestive heart failure, diabetes, renal failure, high blood pressure, anemia, gout, strokes, a suppressed immune system, and cancer (in remission).
Yet Lazar, who had pleaded not guilty, remained combative and defiant. He’d recently protested his innocence on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, declaring, “I swear, they treat me like an absolute thug. . . Who did I cheat? Did anybody get screwed?” While Milberg Weiss was insisting that it had no idea its “referral fees” were ending up with plaintiffs, Lazar admitted that Milberg had paid him. He simply argued that no one got harmed because the money came out of the law firm’s pockets.
Seymour Lazar is a Great American Eccentric – a wily wheeler-dealer who hates wearing socks. He’s retired from highly profitable careers in entertainment law, finance, and real estate. But that doesn’t begin to do Lazar’s history justice. During the 1950s he dated poet Maya Angelou; during the 1960s he served as manager for comedian Lenny Bruce and hung out with LSD guru Timothy Leary.
In the bestselling book, Supermoney, “Adam Smith” memorialized Lazar as “Seymour the Head” – “formerly a respectable Los Angeles lawyer with a respectable wife and child, who discovered arbitrage, mind-blowing chemicals, and a new life style all at the same time.” After years spent overseas, he settled in Palm Springs, where he made tens of millions speculating in desert real estate.
Lazar was litigious too. He sued his wealthy father’s estate after being disinherited. He sued Donald Trump and Carl Icahn. In 1980, after Hertz charged him $11.15 for returning a rented Pontiac without filling the tank, he led class actions against rental-car companies. Whatever the motivation, this “feisty little prick,” as he was described by one chronicler of the 1960s LSD scene, allegedly received $2.4 million in kickbacks for serving as a plaintiff (with his relatives) in about 70 Milberg cases dating back to 1981.
There is much more. Read the entire article.