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Plaintiff's Lawyers Serve As Reminders Of The Dangers Of Greed

Unfortunately, two plaintiff’s lawyers have made the news this month, and not in a good way.  In fact, both stories show the danger of greed and how people can become victims of their own success.

The first case involves Florida personal injury lawyer Louis Robles, the proclaimed King of Torts.  Mr. Robles pled guilty last week under a plea deal for federal fraud charges.  The South Florida Sun Sentinel article describing the charges and deal pretty much sums the story up:

Between 1989 and 2002, Robles collected more than $164 million on behalf of roughly 7,000 asbestos clients, according to court records. Some were World War II veterans. Some were retirees living on Social Security checks. Some died of asbestos-related diseases, leaving spouses and children to recover settlement funds.

Initially, the settlement checks were promptly dispersed — with Robles’ firm deducting up to 40 percent in attorneys’ fees. But around 1994, Robles began dipping directly into settlement proceeds without his clients’ knowledge to fund his extravagant lifestyle, prosecutors said.

During the mid-1990s, Robles and his wife were spending roughly $2 million a year on travel and living expenses, prosecutors said. Robles, who has filed for bankruptcy, also lost millions investing in ill-fated start-up ventures and obscure Hollywood movies, including one called Love God.

By September 2002, Robles had embezzled $13,522,160 from his clients and had only $25,000 remaining in trust accounts.

Unfortunately, the news wasn’t much better before that.  In November, the law firm of Milberg Weiss and two of its partners were indicted for allegedly paying three plaintiffs $11.4 million in illegal kickbacks in about 180 cases spanning 25 years — and then repeatedly lying about it to the courts.  Earlier this month, Bill Lerach, one of the indicted partners, entered a guilty plea requiring him to serve between 1 and 2 years in prison and to pay fines in excess of $8 million.

While both of these stories happen to be about plaintiffs’ lawyers, I think the real story is about greed.  Each of these guys were very successful at what they did, but they still found the need to break the rules to satisfy their greed.  And unfortunately, that’s becoming more and more of an issue in litigation, from all sides.  Certainly plaintiff’s lawyers are guilty of such conduct, but it’s showing up everywhere.  Insurance companies are increasingly taking unreasonable positions and using questionable tactics to minimize what they pay; in personal injury claims, health insurance subrogation companies are more aggressive in seeking every dollar; and defense lawyers seem to be taking more unreasonable positions that tend to escalate the conflicts instead of helping the parties either resolve disputes or get ready for trial.

We would all be well served if the parties took a step back and took the attitude that this isn’t a game where the parties try to extort every penny possible or to pay as little as possible.  Instead, while we should all zealously represent our clients, we also need to remember that our goals should include resolving disputes in a manner that’s fair to all sides and to not let greed get in the way of those goals.

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