For high-powered securities lawyer Mel Lifshitz, giving takes many forms, some more noble than others.
Since 2003, a charitable trust funded and administered by Lifshitz's family has donated money to various causes, most of them orthodox Jewish organizations. Another recipient of the charity's money, however, has been a limited partnership that was a plaintiff in more than a dozen class-action lawsuits filed by Lifshitz's firm over the past four years, a review of documents shows.
TheStreet.com found that the Melly & Rochelle Lifshitz Charitable Trust has invested at least $227,655 in the Delaware limited partnership, Colbart Birnet. In addition, a charitable trust set up by Lifshitz's law firm, Bernstein Liebhard & Lifshitz, one of the nation's top securities class-action firms, has invested at least $225,000 in the same partnership.
Moreover, in five filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Lifshitz is listed as a "beneficial owner" of the Colbart Birnet partnership -- a circumstance Lifshitz says is plain wrong and attributes to "human error." Clouding the picture further are two alternate spellings for Colbart Birnet that appear in court filings and a federal tax return for the law firm charity. Lifshitz says there's nothing to the discrepancies and ascribes them to "typographical" mistakes.Financial connections between lawyers and clients in class-action litigation are frowned upon and can violate a federal law designed to preserve the autonomy of plaintiffs in such suits, legal experts say. According to the theory, a lawyer should not be beholden to any single plaintiff, especially the lead plaintiff, when he is negotiating on behalf of a larger group. "The potential is the conflict between a lawyer's obligation to the class and his personal interest,'' says Milton C. Regan Jr., a professor of legal ethics at Georgetown University School of Law. "The potentially aggrieved parties would be the