Stan Chesley: Fen-phen civil case to move forward against 'master of disaster'

Case likely won't go to trial for years

CINCINNATI – Former Cincinnati super lawyer Stan Chesley’s legal fight will continue over his role in a controversial $200 million diet drug settlement.

A Kentucky Supreme Court opinion issued Thursday keeps alive a civil suit filed against Chesley, who was paid $20 million for negotiating the fen-phen settlement in 2001.

See the court's opinion below or at

The civil case will determine whether Chesley must return any of his fees to the hundreds of clients who were part of the original fen-phen class-action lawsuit.

“He will get his day in court in the future,” said Frank Benton IV, a lawyer based in Newport who is representing Chesley, known in legal circles as the “master of disaster” for the central role he played in many of the nation’s largest mass injury lawsuits. “Really, the only question is, did he get paid too much?”

Chesley, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, permanently retired from practicing law in April, about a month after the Kentucky Supreme Court disbarred him over his role in the fen-phen case. In disbarring Chesley, the court called his $20 million fee “unreasonable” and said he was entitled to only $14 million based on his contractual agreements with the other lawyers in the case.

The Supreme Court’s opinion issued Thursday dealt with a complex set of legal questions involving Chesley and three other lawyers from Lexington, Ky., who also were disbarred.

Two of those lawyers – William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham Jr. – are serving prison sentences for their roles in the case. Melbourne Mills avoided jail time by successfully arguing that he had a serious drinking problem at the time and wasn’t involved in cheating the clients.

Chesley, 77, was granted immunity in the criminal proceedings against the others.

The court’s opinion Thursday upheld the summary judgment for $42 million entered by the trial court in 2006.

“The opinion provides finality on most of the claims that have been pending for nearly nine years against those attorneys,” Lexington lawyer Angela Ford said in an emailed statement to WCPO Digital.

Ford is representing hundreds of people who took fen-phen and were plaintiffs in the original class-action suit but didn’t get as much money as they should have in the $200 million settlement. The diet drug was found to cause heart problems in people who took it, leading to a series of lawsuits filed across the country in the late 1990s.

Ford said she will move forward “on all claims” against Chesley, adding: “Since I believe that Chesley was the chief architect behind the cover-up of the fraud, we will be seeking a very large verdict on punitive damages.”

Benton said it likely would be a couple of years before the case is heard in Boone County Circuit Court because of the many depositions that must be taken in the case.


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