Disbarred local lawyer Stan Chesley retires from practicing law in Ohio

Move appears to end legal career

CINCINNATI - Famed Cincinnati litigator Stan Chesley, known as the "master of disaster'' for his use of class-action lawsuits, retired Thursday from practicing law in Ohio after being disbarred in Kentucky last month.

The Ohio Supreme Court website lists Chesley, 77, as "permanently retired" effective Thursday. The website also lists that Chesley has no discipline or sanctions history.

Court spokesman Chris Davey said the permanent retirement has the same practical effect as disbarment for Chesley.

"He can never practice law in Ohio again," Davey said. "The difference is he has surrendered his license rather than having it taken from him. And it takes effect immediately."

One of Chesley's lawyers issued a statement Friday afternoon acknowledging that Chesley had "elected to retire."

The statement noted that Chesley practiced law continuously for 53 year and "was never subject to discipline or sanction by an Ohio court or disciplinary board."

"Over his decades in practice, he has had the privilege of successfully representing many clients across the country in significant and interesting cases," said the statement issued by Marion Little, a lawyer based in Columbus. "He has been described as one of the nation's most successful lawyers by fellow litigators, judges and professional organizations."

The statement continued: "Mr. Chesley has also long been active in charitable and philanthropic works in the Cincinnati area, giving generously of time and resources, and has served many community educational and cultural organizations as a board member and in other capacities. Even with his retirement from the practice of law, Mr. Chesley intends to continue his support and advocacy for public and cultural organizations."

Chesley was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1960 and made a name for himself with his innovative approach to litigating class-action lawsuits. His first major case was on behalf of victims of the 1977 Beverly Hills Supper Club fire.

Instead of just suing the nightclub owners, he sued the aluminum electrical wire industry, arguing the industry was to blame for the fire that killed 165 people. His strategy worked. He ultimately won $49 million in verdicts and settlements and revolutionized mass injury law.

In the decades since, Chesley won billions of dollars in such cases as suing Pan Am over the Lockerbie terrorist attack and Dow Corning over breast implants.

During a 2004 interview, Chesley estimated his firm had recovered nearly $7 billion for clients since he started doing mass tort litigation in the late 1970s.

He amassed enough personal wealth to buy a 25-room French chateau in Indian Hill in 2004. At the time, it was believed to be the most expensive single-family home ever listed in Hamilton County. (He paid $8 million.) He owned more than 20 cars at one point, including Jaguars, Rolls Royces, Ferraris, Aston Martins and Bentleys.

"I work hard, and I want to live hard," Chesley said during the interview that year. "We have substantial income. We're a very successful firm."

But Chesley's fortunes have changed dramatically in recent years.

He has been under fire over his conduct in a class-action lawsuit against the maker of the diet drug known as fen-phen. The Kentucky Supreme Court disbarred Chesley in March, saying that he took more than $7 million in fees beyond what he was entitled to in the case. Chesley argued that he didn't realize he'd been overpaid, but the court didn't believe him.

He faced disbarment in Ohio, too, a move that a lawyer for Chesley had said he planned to fight. But he decided to retire instead. The court's Office of Attorney Services confirmed his retirement was effective April 18. And Davey said there will be no disbarment proceeding in Ohio as a result.

Chesley resigned from the University of Cincinnati board of trustees earlier this week, too, after several days of intense pressure to quit.

He is president of downtown-based Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley. The fate of his firm was unclear Friday morning. Many of the firm's lawyers have left in the past two years to start practices of their own.

Chesley declined comment on his retirement. He hasn't spoken publicly since he was disbarred in Kentucky. His firm said he would have a statement later today.

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