N.Y. firm changes mind, won't seek Fla. securities suits

John O'Brien Feb. 4, 2010, 7:00pm


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - A prominent New York plaintiffs firm has withdrawn its application to represent the state of Florida in securities lawsuits one day after a Wall Street Journal report chronicled its campaign contribution strategy.

Stanley Bernstein of Bernstein Leibhard wrote the Florida State Board of Administration Thursday, saying that his firm is taking itself out of the running because of "burdens imposed upon the SBA by the firm's application."

Five firms are currently approved to represent Florida pension funds in securities lawsuits. Bernstein Leibhard's application had been put on hold after state Attorney General Bill McCollum received an anonymous letter, the St. Petersburg Times reported.

Bernstein told the Wall Street Journal that his firm supports political candidates that support securities suits.

"We make sizable contributions to candidates we believe support investor causes," he said in the report.

The SBA -- made up of McCollum, Gov. Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink -- recently made changes to its policies regarding securities suits.

A cap system provides a certain amount of attorneys fees for each tier of an award or settlement and allows a maximum of $50 million. The measure also creates more transparency in the bidding process and puts the firm's timesheets online.

The changes are modeled after McCollum's practices as attorney general, and legislation is pending that would apply them permanently to the office.

The anonymous letter McCollum received said the firm had suspicious financial ties to charities and investors, the St. Petersburg Times report says. It adds that Bernstein told the SBA that he made incorrect statements to the SBA evaluation panel about tax problems.

The five law firms that can represent the State in securities litigation are: Pomerantz Haudek Grossman; Bernstein Litowitz Berger; Berman DeValerio; Barrack Rodos & Bacine; and Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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