NY Firm, Founder to Stand Trial in LA
By Anthony Lin
New York Law Journal - December 21, 2007
A Los Angeles federal judge has denied a motion by class action firm Milberg Weiss and its senior partner, Melvyn I. Weiss, to have their upcoming trial on conspiracy charges transferred to New York.
Mr. Weiss, who is charged with orchestrating a scheme by which the firm paid kickbacks to named plaintiffs in securities class action cases, had argued that the case should be moved because it would be an enormous hardship for him to be away from his New York home, family and friends while on trial. He also noted that New York was where many of the events at issue in the indictment took place.
But Judge John F. Walter of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California said the convenience of the government needed to be weighed against that of Mr. Weiss and added that it was not a "case in which jurors might benefit from a trip to the crime scene or might require some understanding of the local geography or culture."
The judge further noted that he had overseen the case for 17 months, during which he had accepted seven guilty pleas and decided numerous motions.
The guilty pleas include those of former Milberg Weiss named partners William Lerach, David Bershad and Steven Schulman, as well as former class action plaintiffs who received kickbacks.
Judge Walter said "it would be a waste of judicial resources and against the interest of justice for a Judge in a different district to spend the time necessary to learn the intricacies of what Defendants admit is an extremely complex case."
Mr. Weiss' lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said in a statement yesterday that he was disappointed in the ruling but added, "Nevertheless, I remain confident that no jury, whether sitting in New York or in Los Angeles, once it has the opportunity to hear all of the evidence to be presented in this case, will ever convict such an extraordinary man as Melvyn I. Weiss."
In his motion to transfer the case, Mr. Weiss had offered a glimpse of his defense. He said New York-based character witnesses would testify that he was pre-occupied with humanitarian and charitable endeavors during the charged period. He said this testimony "will help explain, for example, how Bershad, Schulman, and others, could be involved in wrongdoing without Mr. Weiss' knowledge or participation."