In a post last week, I discussed a recent article by three academics in which they considered whether companies involved in securities lawsuits financially underperform after the cases are settled. The prior post provoked an unusual level of reader commentary. Among the comments posted was one from former plaintiffs’ securities class action attorney William Lerach.
Because I know readers enjoy a spirited discussion as much as I do, and because I believe this blog can and should encompass a wide variety of viewpoints, I communicated with Mr. Lerach to see if he would allow me to republish his comment in the form of a guest post on this site. Mr. Lerach agreed and so his comment is reproduced below. In order to appreciate the context for Mr. Lerach’s remarks, I strongly recommend reading the prior post on which he is commenting. Here are his comments:
After reading Kevin’s description of this study concerning the post settlement performance of companies sued for securities fraud and his own evaluation of the paper I don’t know whether to characterize them both as silly or stupid. They’re probably a combination of both. Almost everything about the study and the associated commentary ignores the basic realities of the circumstances that surround the vast majority of securities fraud litigations. Most companies end up being sued for securities fraud––and then end up (with the help of directors’ and officers’ liability insurance) paying a settlement––because they have lied to the marketplace about the quality of the corporation’s business or its products or finances. Frequently the revelation of the truth results and not only a sharp drop in the stock price but adverse financial revelations, a drop in revenues and cash flow, violation of bank or lending covenants and management shakeups. So are we surprised that companies with these characteristics suffer "greater risks of financial distress" after they later settle a lawsuit. Of course they face such risks because they were lying about the nature of their business earlier–to cover up flaws in products, performance or the business model itself. Often such companies face a" liar’s discount" in the marketplace as a consequence of their prior bad conduct. It’s not the lawsuit or the settlement of the lawsuit that injures the company-or impairs it ongoing performance of financial condition-it is the misconduct, the lying and the financial falsification of the executives that got the company sued in the first place that undermines the future performance and financial health of the company. We should not be surprised that companies that have committed securities fraud––whether it’s stuffing the channel, lying about their products, or falsifying their financials, "perform worse than their peers". What is it about such companies and their managements that would cause us to believe that they would perform better than their peers? Kevin’s conclusion that this flawed study suggests that suits are better directed at the individuals who perpetrated the misconduct i.e. the officers of the company– and that this would somehow spare the corporate entity the financial distress of the settlement -ignores the reality of the indemnification obligation of the company which in virtually every case causes the company to fund the bulk of any settlement on behalf of the officers directors and then only to the extent it has not been paid for by directors and officers liability insurance, a contributor which would have no material adverse impact on the corporate entity. Underlying the study and Kevin’s commentary on it is the notion somehow that suits brought on by half of shareholders merely transfer money from one group of shareholders to another and therefore really don’t benefit anyone– but harm the company. Not only does this ignore the reality that the bulk of the settlement monies in these cases comes from directors and officers insurance but it completely misses the point that the vast majority of settlement proceeds go to former shareholders of the company––those investors who purchased the shares of the company at an inflated price during the fraud period but who in most instances, out of anger , frustration, or even for tax considerations later sell the shares at a loss and have no further interest in the corporate entity. These are former shareholders not current shareholders with the equivalent of a tort claim against the company. I normally am not moved to comment on the academic work done concerning securities lawsuits but the simplistic nature of this study is so obvious that I could not resist pointing out these shortcomings. It may well be that there are many defects with securities fraud class action lawsuits but any financial underperformance of companies that follows their settling such lawsuits against them and their officers and directors is not one of them.
I would like to thank Mr. Lerach for taking the time to communicate his reaction to my prior post and for allowing me to reproduce his thoughts here. As I have already had my say on this topic, and because my business partners prefer that I attend to my day job from time to time, I will not respond here to Mr. Lerach’s comments. However, I expect some readers may have their own reactions to Mr. Lerach’s remarks, and I encourage everyone to consider adding their thoughts to this post using the blog’s comment feature. I have always hoped this site would serve as a platform for the exchange of ideas, and I encourage all readers to use post their thoughts for the benefit of other readers.
In a prior post (here), I reviewed the recent biography of Mr. Lerach, Circle of Greed. My interview with the book’s authors can be found here.
That’s Reassuring: I am still trying to work out whether I am silly or stupid. Or perhaps both. In the meantime, I take some consolation from the fact that Lexis Nexis has selected The D&O Diary as one of the Top 50 Insurance blogs, as reflected in the icon embedded in the right hand margin.
In addition, George Mason Law Professor J.W. Verret, writing in the Truth on the Market blog on Monday, included The D&O Diary as one of twelve blogs he lists as his "favorite corporate law blogs." UCLA Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge, commenting on Verret’s list on the ProfessorBainbridge.com blog, also included The D&O Diary on his (somewhat longer) list of corporate law blogs he reads regularly. My thanks to both venerable Professors (and fellow bloggers). I should add that my blog list is very much like theirs and that my list also includes both of their blogs.