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William S. Lerach, the high-profile class-action attorney who has successfully sued scores of companies, including Enron, on behalf of investors, is considering leaving the California law firm he founded, the firm says. The action by one of corporate America's most feared attorneys is bound up with the investigation that named a Palm Springs former attorney to the stars and one of the Coachella Valley's most respected lawyers are in a federal indictment.

Seymour M. Lazar and Paul T. Selzer were accused of participating in a kickback and laundering scheme that involved $2.4 million in alleged secret payments dating back to 1981 in connection with more than 50 class-action or shareholders lawsuits.

The far-reaching indictment cites dozens of class- and shareholder-derivative action lawsuits against corporate giants including Denny's, United Airlines, Standard Oil, Genentech and Pacific Gas & Electric. The indictment says the suits netted Lerach's former firm, Milberg Weiss, more than $44 million in fees over more than 25 years.

The statement by the San Diego-based Lerach Coughlin firm came amid speculation over William Lerach's possible legal situation. Federal prosecutors in California have been investigating for seven years whether Lerach and his former law partners played a role in possibly illegal kickbacks to clients in multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuits.

Word that Lerach, 61, may retire from the firm came around the same time one of his former law partners, David Bershad, reportedly has been in discussions with prosecutors about a possible plea deal. Lerach's former firm, Milberg Weiss, as well as former partners Bershad and Steven Schulman, were indicted last year.


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