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BANKING/FINANCE : Lawyers’ Judgment on Keating Verdict Leans to Acquittal

Compiled by James S. Granelli / Times staff writer

It was just a straw vote based on gut feelings, but it showed that efforts to predict what a jury will do is often a crap shoot.

Nearly 40 lawyers meeting two weeks ago in Tucson in the huge civil litigation stemming from Lincoln Savings & Loan’s collapse were asked to predict the jury’s verdict in the criminal trial of Charles H. Keating Jr. in Los Angeles.

The majority of the lawyers--all of whom have access to daily transcripts of the trial--guessed he would be acquitted of securities fraud charges.

The vote split along “party” lines--plaintiffs’ lawyers for conviction, defense lawyers for acquittal. But there was one major exception.

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Laurence M. Popofsky, a lawyer for the Ernst & Young accounting firm, a major defendant in the civil cases, predicted a conviction. He said he did so “knowing almost nothing” about the criminal case against Keating.

Popofsky pointed out, though, that two other lawyers also attending the meeting from his law firm, Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe, disagreed with him and with each other. One predicted acquittal and the other a hung jury.

The Heller Ehrman votes alone showed that making jury predictions is a gamble, but they were intriguing for another reason: The law firm was the only one to send a legal assistant to the trial to monitor the proceedings on a daily basis.

Meantime, the jury started its 11th day of deliberations today.

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