Lawyer argues for record pay in Enron case

HOUSTON Fri Feb 29, 2008 10:50pm EST

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HOUSTON (Reuters) - A lawyer who helped reap a $7.2 billion settlement for Enron investors told a federal judge on Friday that his firm deserved a record $700 million in fees, due to the complexity and risky nature of the case.

"This is an extraordinary case and we did an extraordinary job," Patrick Coughlin, a partner with Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins LLP, the lead attorneys in the case told a hearing in U.S. District Court in Houston.

The firm's founder William Lerach, retired in August. He pleaded guilty to kickback scheme at his former law firm, but still stands to receive a multimillion payout from the Enron case.

Coughlin Stoia is seeking about 9.5 percent of the total settlement amount, which would equal nearly $700 million.

Coughlin presented his case in an elaborate multimedia presentation to U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon, who now must approve the fee award.

The presentation included testimonials from former Enron employees and a clip from the Oscar-nominated legal thriller, "Michael Clayton."

Over the course of the case that lasted six years, Coughlin said his firm billed 247,000 hours, took 400 depositions and submitted 5,700 filings.

"We didn't leave any avenue unturned," he said.

Still, other attorneys took issue with the size of the award, arguing that more should go to investors.

"Class counsel has not proved the legitimacy of this fee request," Larry Schonbrun, who represents a single investor in the case, told the court.

The settlement was paid by banks including Citigroup Inc who are accused of helping the energy trader hide financial misdeeds that led to its collapse.

The settlement still lacks final approval from Harmon.

Recently, a group of plaintiffs firms sought about $460 million in fees following settlements in a securities fraud case against Tyco International Ltd.

(Reporting by Anna Driver in Houston; editing by Carol Bishopric)

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