Enron class-action firm bills for 247,000 hours

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A lawyer who helped reap a US$7.2-billion settlement for Enron investors says his firm deserves a record US$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 multi-million-dollar payout from the Enron case.

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

Mr. 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, Mr. 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. that are accused of helping the energy trader hide financial misdeeds that led to its collapse. The settlement still lacks final approval from Judge Harmon.

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

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