Judge Joseph Bamberger rubber-stamped a Kentucky fen-phen settlement agreement where plaintiffs’ attorneys cheated class members out of tens of millions of dollars. In the process, his former law partner was paid millions by the settlement, which he used to buy a Florida house with Bamberger, and Bamberger himself received a $5000/month sinecure. At trial of the three lead attorneys yesterday, jurors were shown a videotape where one of the plaintiffs questioned the judge on how low her settlement was and the validity of her release; the videotape shows Bamberger browbeating the plaintiff, but then awarding her an additional $100,000 and a $1200/month life annuity on the condition that she cease talking about the settlement and her objections to it. (Jim Hannah, “Judge dressed down victim”, Cincinnati Enquirer, May 24) (h/t R.U.). For some reason yet undisclosed by prosecutors, Bamberger is on the witness stand rather than in the dock with Gallion, Mills, and Cunningham.
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.)
Hey, I just write the American.com column about the Kentucky fen-phen fraud, not the headlines. Earlier on Overlawyered: Mar. 26 and links therein. (Cross-posted at Point of Law.)
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).