Lawyers for shareholders at Mercury Finance Co. have filed competing motions as they fight for the right to sue the beleaguered subprime auto lender.

The two groups seeking to sue Mercury, the Lake Forest, Ill., subprime auto lender that rocked the industry in January when it said that its earnings had been overstated for four years because of fraudulent accounting, are the State of Minnesota's employee pension fund and a group of attorneys who have consolidated their lawsuits against Mercury into a single suit.

The competing motions are pending before a federal magistrate in Chicago. Eventually, one plaintiff will be selected, and its lawsuit, charging that Mercury executives knowingly filed false financial statements to boost their pay, will go to trial.

No decision on a plaintiff is expected until after Mercury files its much-delayed annual report, said Wolf Popper partner Marian Rosner. The report is being prepared by Arthur Andersen.

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