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Seymour Lazar dies at 88; entertainment attorney caught up in kickback scandal

Seymour Lazar, a former Los Angeles entertainment attorney who was among the defendants indicted in a infamous kickback scandal involving the former Milberg Weiss shareholder law firm, died March 30 in Palm Springs of natural causes, said his daughter, Tara Lazar. He was 88.

Lazar represented cultural luminaries and musicians, including comedian Lenny Bruce and singer Johnny Rivers. He claimed poets Allen Ginsberg and Maya Angelou among his friends.

In 2007, Lazar pleaded guilty to federal charges of obstruction of justice, filing a false tax return and making a false declaration. He was sentenced to six months of home detention and two years' probation and agreed to pay more than $2 million in fines and forfeitures.

Former partners of Milberg Weiss pleaded guilty to allegations they illegally paid clients kickbacks in securities-fraud lawsuits in what prosecutors said was a scheme involving dozens of shareholder lawsuits against companies.

The firm, which paid $75 million to settle its part of the case, allegedly kept rosters of "professional plaintiffs" with small holdings of many companies, so they would have standing to claim damages when their share prices dropped.

Lazar had not practiced law for years at the time of the indictments. He was a securities trader and real estate investor living in Palm Springs after a stint in Mexico.

Lazar's daughter called the federal case "a terrible part of his life" but said that, in better times, Lazar was a "larger-than-life" personality who loved to tell jokes and was generous with money and advice.

Lazar was born in New York City on June 14, 1927, and raised at a Los Angeles ranch. Lazar ran away from his Orthodox Jewish parents at age 15. Later, after his businessman father bequeathed money to UCLA, he sued his father's estate, his daughter said. He sought funds for his mother, she said.

Lazar attended UC Berkeley, served in the Army Air Corps and graduated from USC law school. He was iconoclastic and a "free spirit," his daughter said, favoring shoes with no socks and Pierre Cardin suits, worn without a shirt. "Creative people related to him. They felt he was one of them, which was rare for a lawyer of his generation," she said.

Angelou told the Wall Street Journal in 2006 that she met Lazar when she was a cabaret singer in Hollywood in the 1950s. She said he encouraged her to pursue writing. In the late 1970s, he helped represent would-be beneficiaries of a mysterious possible lost will — the "Mormon will" — as part of an unsuccessful lawsuit against the estate of the late billionaire Howard Hughes.

In 1969, Lazar was part of a group accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of manipulating the stock price of a Chicago meatpacking firm. He was sued by its shareholders in the case, which was settled without admission of guilt.

The opposing lawyer was Melvyn Weiss, founding partner of Milberg Weiss. They struck up an acquaintance, Lazar later told the Journal. Weiss was eventually sentenced to 30 months in prison in connection with the kickback case.

Lazar read avidly, supported underdogs and civil rights, played backgammon and took an interest in Eastern religions, Tara Lazar said.

He once sued a car rental company after it charged him extra for gas, she said.

In addition to his daughter, Lazar is survived by his wife of 50 years, Alyce, sons Job and Adam, and six grandchildren.

jill.leovy@latimes.com

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