Last May 10 we reported on the questions that were being asked about a sealed settlement of Kentucky fen-phen claims which had included (along with vast sums in legal fees) the quiet diversion of $20 million into a mysterious new charitable entity called the Kentucky Fund for Healthy Living. Now the mystery has turned to scandal: the judge who approved the settlement, Joseph F. (“Jay”) Bamberger has resigned after allegations surfaced that he was serving as a director of the fund, receiving $5,000 a month (three of the plaintiff’s lawyers were also paid directors). The state’s Judicial Conduct Commission said Bamberger’s actions “shock the conscience” and he faced possible removal had he not resigned. Particular attention is being focused on Bamberger’s close ties to Mark Modlin, a trial consultant in the fen-phen case who has had co-investments with the judge. The alleged closeness between Bamberger and Modlin had led to protests from litigants in a number of earlier cases, including a high-profile priest-abuse case against the Catholic Diocese of Covington.
The commission’s reprimand (PDF) revealed a startling fact. “The attorney fees approved were at least $86 million and perhaps as much as $104 million” — well exceeding the $74 million that was split among the 431 claimants in settlement. A lawsuit continues on behalf of some allegedly victimized clients against four plaintiff’s lawyers involved in the settlement, including big-league Cincinnati operator Stanley Chesley. (Beth Musgrave, “Fen-phen lawsuit judge resigns”, Lexington Herald-Leader, Feb. 28; Jim Hannah, “Judge quits amid allegations”, Cincinnati Enquirer, Feb. 28; “Investigation of Bamberger warranted” (editorial), Cincinnati Enquirer, Mar. 1; “A blistering rebuke” (editorial), Cincinnati Post, Mar. 1; Peter Bronson, “Hold this judge in contempt”, Cincinnati Enquirer, Mar. 2)(cross-posted from Point of Law).