We told you the Kentucky fen-phen scandal — which we’ve been covering since 2005 — was serious. Now it’s resulted in the permanent revocation of the Kentucky license to practice of famed “Master of Disaster” tort specialist Stanley Chesley, whose office is across the river in Cincinnati, Ohio. Two lawyers who directly represented fen-phen clients in Kentucky, “Shirley Cunningham Jr. and William Gallion, are serving prison sentences for bilking clients out of $94 million in settlement money.” While Chesley did not represent Cunningham’s or Gallion’s clients, and denied holding any legal responsibility toward them, he accepted a $20 million fee, far in excess of negotiated sums, for representing the lawyers themselves in the settlement that brought in the cash, a sum that “was unreasonable, especially in light of his professed ignorance and lack of responsibility for any aspect of the litigation except showing up at the mediation and going through the motions of announcing the agreement,” the Kentucky Supreme Court concluded. Chesley participated in the diversion of the pilfered funds into a trust (pleasantly named “Kentucky Fund for Healthy Living“) intended to conceal the skimming, and helped orchestrate the lawyers’ cover-up. Wrote the court: “The vast amount of evidence compiled and presented in this matter demonstrates convincingly that respondent knowingly participated in a scheme to skim millions of dollars in excess attorney’s fees from unknowing clients.” [ABA Journal; court order, PDF; Louisville Courier-Journal; Daniel Fisher, Forbes; David Lat, Above the Law]
- Barbara Bonar gets supporting testimony in her claims against Stan Chesley, but loses bench trial in case she brought over questionable settlement over Catholic church sex abuse. Bonar, the next president of the Kentucky Bar, will appeal. In the meantime, she faces trumped up ethics charges for representing class member opt-out settlements. (Andrew Wolfson, “Covington lawyer loses fee dispute case”, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 12).
- Angela Ford, who is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of Kentucky fen-phen victims ripped off by their attorneys against their co-counsel, Stan Chesley, is now also facing what seems to me retaliatory political pressure; a Hamilton County, Ohio, judge, apparently unaware of deposition commissions, is complaining that she subpoenaed an Ohio witness without being licensed to practice law in that state. For some reason, a Kentucky judge, Stanley Billingsley, is testifying on behalf of Chesley. An American Home Products witness contradicted defendants’ claims that they “set aside” some settlement money for future Kentucky claimants (who, under the U.S. Supreme Court Amchem precedent, could not be bound by the settlement). And the parties are in mediation tomorrow and Thursday, which, judging by Chesley’s attorney’s complaints about press coverage, implies a confidential settlement is near. Next court hearing is May 31. (Shelly Whitehead, “Fen-phen suit heads to mediation”, Cincinnati Post, Apr. 24; Beth Musgrave and Jim Warren, “Lawyers meet Wednesday to try to reach deal on fen-phen millions”, Lexington Herald-Leader, May 14).
- Angela Ford herself has a website, which is not surprising, but it does include a remarkable resource of publicly-available court documents related to the Abbott v. Chesley case.
Prominent Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley said he wanted to file the Diocese of Covington priest-abuse case in Boone County because “we have a real friendly judge there,” a lawyer testified this week.
“He winked at me” and said “we need to file this in Boone County,” testified Covington lawyer Barbara Bonar, who is suing Chesley in a dispute over attorneys fees in the $84.5 million case.
“He said we already have hired a trial consultant, and he is real friendly with the judge,” Bonar said, describing a conversation she claimed to have had with Chesley in January 2003. “And he winked at me again.”
Chesley denies the allegations, but the fact remains that the Boone Circuit judge, Joseph Bamberger, of Kentucky fen-phen scandal fame, made an unprecedented ruling certifying a class action over priest abuse that forced the diocese into a $84.5 million settlement given that the church could not hope to defend itself against anonymous unnamed class members.
Bonar, who was briefly co-counsel for the class in the priest-abuse case, testified that Chesley’s partner Robert Steinberg told her in August 2003 that the Chesley firm had to turn down an early $3 million settlement offer from the diocese because it already had paid $400,000 in expenses to Modlin as a fee “to get the class certified.”
The diocese had sought Bamberger’s recusal. Modlin was also hired as a $2 million “trial consultant” in the fen-phen case, and went on to buy a house in Florida with Judge Bamberger. Chesley denies paying Modlin $400,000, and Bonar has her own motivation to fib, as she’s suing for a share of the Chesley fees from the class action, and claims she left the case only because of her fear of being involved in a fraud on the court. Bonar has already earned $2 million in fees out of the $4.7 million she settled for in individual cases outside the class action. Somewhere in here, a crime has been committed, whether it be bribery or perjury, but there’s work for a grand jury to be done. (Andrew Wolfson, “Lawyers clash in dispute over fees”, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 10; see also Jeanne Houck, “Claims tangle diocese lawsuit”, Kentucky Post, Nov. 26, 2003).
Update: the Kentucky Bar Association is investigating. (Paul A. Long, “Bar: Probe attorneys’ conduct”, Cincinnati Post, May 10.)
So wrote Boone Circuit Court Senior Judge William Wehr in a motion denying both Stan Chesley’s motion to dismiss a suit against him in the Kentucky fen-phen fee scandal. But, with plaintiffs’ summary judgment motion also denied, a jury will ultimately decide how much that “more” should be, and whether a fiduciary duty was broken. The same order denied a request by Melbourne Mills to reconsider the finding that a fiduciary duty was broken. Chesley’s attorneys state that he will pay back $7 million of his $20 million fee. (Jim Hannah, “Chesley made too much”, Cincinnati Enquirer, Apr. 5). Earlier: OL Mar. 26 and links therein. (Cross-posted at Point of Law.)
Former mass tort star Stanley Chesley “escaped criminal sanctions and so far has paid nothing for taking $7.55 million more than he was owed in Kentucky’s scandalous fen-phen case. But a Boone Circuit Court judge ruled this week that Chesley is liable for the uncollected portion of a $42 million judgment that former clients won in the diet drug case against three Lexington lawyers who defrauded them.” [Louisville Courier-Journal] Chesley “was disbarred in Kentucky but allowed to retire in Ohio.” [ABA Journal]
Disbarred in Kentucky, disgraced in the eyes of many onetime admirers, the veteran mass tort lawyer does not seem to have been disgraced in the eyes of the Cincinnati city council: it just unanimously appointed him to the city’s Human Relations Commission. [WCPO, earlier, background and on Kentucky fen-phen scandal).
Four-part series on rise and fall of front-rank mass tort lawyer Stan Chesley [WCPO]
Part one: How Chesley, born in modest circumstances in Cincinnati, helped pave the way for modern mass tort law by suing dozens upon dozens of defendants — in particular, makers of furnishings and furniture — over the Beverly Hills Supper Club nightclub fire (scroll for more). Advice from Robert Gettys, the only lawyer to hold out and beat Chesley in that case: “Don’t listen to his B.S.”
Part two: “in a 2004 interview, Chesley estimated his firm had recovered nearly $7 billion for clients since he began doing mass tort litigation in the 1970s.”
Part three: he dishes out generously to both Democratic and Republican parties in Ohio, as well as to philanthropies that subsequently undergo embarrassment when the Kentucky Supreme Court finds Chesley “engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation following the initial distribution of client funds and concealed unethical handling of client funds by others.”
Part four: “Chesley’s friends call his professional demise a ‘personal tragedy.’ But his detractors call him a bully who manipulates the media to help his causes. Plenty of local lawyers dislike him. Most, however, declined to be quoted. That’s partly because, although he’s no longer practicing law, Chesley still is married to a federal judge.” Also: why Jacquelyn McMurtry, a fen-phen claimant who attended the civil trial over fee finagling in the Kentucky case, doesn’t share the opinion of settlement guru Kenneth Feinberg that Chesley was somehow the victim of others’ fraud.
Among the departing lawyers are those representing the state of Ohio in a public employee retirement fund-led class action; the state may not appreciate the fallout from Chesley’s efforts to fight disbarment in Kentucky over the fen-phen scandal. [Cincinnati Enquirer] Many of the one-time “Master of Disaster’s” bipartisan political ties, however, remain cozy:
Chesley noted that Hamilton County [= Cincinnati] Prosecutor Joe Deters, who has worked for Chesley as a private attorney for four years, continues to work at the firm.
Deters also works as a private attorney for the new firm created by Chesley’s former lawyers. Deters, a leader in Hamilton County’s Republican Party, praises Chesley, who has helped raise millions for Democrats…