LEXINGTON, Ky. - It's now up to the Kentucky Supreme Court whether attorney Stan Chesley will keep his license to practice law in the Commonwealth.
That's because the Board of Governors of the Kentucky Bar Association voted Tuesday to recommend that Chesley be disbarred and surrender $7.5 million of the $20 million he received in fees for helping negotiate the $200 million deal for fen-phen claimants.
The Board's decision followed a 90-minute hearing at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Lexington and the findings of a Trial Commissioner. The matter now goes to the Kentucky Supreme Court for consideration.
"We're not surprised, but disappointed because we thought we had good arguments and we thought we made good arguments," said Chesley's attorney Sheryl G. Snyder. "We were optimistic that the board would not adopt the report in toto. We were optimistic that even if they ruled against him on the merits, they would write their own recommendation to the Supreme Court."
If disbarred, Chesley would join William Gallion, Shirley Cunningham, Jr. and Melbourne Mills, Jr., as losing law licenses in working on the case.
During oral arguments Snyder maintained there was no evidence that Chesley participated in any sort of scheme to obtain more fees than called for in his contracts.
"The process by which Gallion, Cunningham and Mills negotiated with their clients and kept more of the money than they should have is something Mr. Chesley was not involved in," he said. "After the settlement was reached Mr. Chesley's job was completed."
Snyder continued that his client was never involved in the cover-up which followed.
"Why would you cover up a crime you didn't commit," he said. "The law on ratification of their misconduct requires that he had to have specific knowledge of what they did. We don't think the evidence supports that conclusion."
However, Board Chief Counsel Linda Gosnell termed the case a matter of "unbridled greed." She compared it to the Watergate scandal of the 1970s.
"What happened to the money?" she asked. "Mr. Chesley has been, from the start, a part of the fraud."
As oral arguments wrapped up, Snyder said the fee Chesley received was justified.
"He got the award from $20 million to $200 million and that brought substantial value to the settlement," he said. "It's not excessive. He earned it."
Doug Myers, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Governors, said he's been practicing law since 1975 and he's never seen a case that resembles what's gone on in the fen-phen litigation.
"I think the whole fen-phen matter has been rather high profile for the lawyers of Kentucky and somewhat of an embarrassment and hopefully this chapter will be closed."
Snyder added, "I think Mister Chesley is aware of the notoriety of this case in Kentucky and therefore not surprised that at this stage of this proceeding the recommendation would be what it is. Now, we go to the Kentucky Supreme Court and see if we can persuade them."
Watching the proceedings in-person were several members of the fen-phen claimants, who declined to comment other than to say they were there to seek justice.
Others in the audience were family members of sex abuse victims in the Diocese of Covington. Many of them are suing Chesley for his handling of the $80 million settlement fund.
Among them was Candace Wenger of Bromley.
"I know how these victims feel," she said. "I'm hearing a lot of the same things here today that I'm hearing about the Diocese case, which he was involved in. That's all you keep hearing is, 'Deny, deny, I didn't do anything,' and I just want him to be accountable for these people and for all the other victims from the Diocese case."
Wenger said her late father was a victim of abuse in the Diocese as a child.
"He died in his 40s, so he didn't have a very good life. Criminal record. Some things like that," she said. "So, I really didn't have a father at all growing up -- and now I know why -- because the abuse started so young and it just went throughout his life."
Julane Simpson of Florence said she traveled to Lexington to see "justice done."
She said several family members got together after the settlement and found they had similar concerns about how the case was run and settled. That led to the hiring of an attorney.
According to Simpson, her late husband was abused by Fr. Earl Bierman, a fact she learned only after her husband committed suicide.
"He was terribly depressed during his life and his sister and I were trying to find out why. What was the answer to this?" she said. "He had everything going for him and he just couldn't continue life anymore. It was so painful."
Simpson continued, "Miss Gosnell started out by saying this is 'unbridled greed' and I think there's unbridled greed in many areas of our life and people just
need to know and I want to see justice done here."