Editor’s Note: Cincinnati native Stan Chesley, considered the father of the modern-day class action lawsuit, won billions of dollars on behalf of thousands of clients. At his peak he was among the most successful plaintiff’s lawyers in the nation, if not the world. A single case brought it tumbling down. This is the third in a four-part series that examines the man who is loathed by his detractors just as fiercely as he’s defended by his friends. There is occasional profanity.
CINCINNATI -- Locally, Stan Chesley is the rich guy who has helped keep inner city pools open in the summer when the city’s budget was tight.
But he’s also given considerably to charities around the world, particularly those related to Judaism and the people and land of Israel.
Chesley served for five and a half years as president of the board of directors of the Jewish National Fund, the New York-based nonprofit that develops land and plants trees in Israel.
He asked for a leave of absence from that role April 8 as controversy swirled around him in Cincinnati. That was 18 days after the Kentucky Supreme Court permanently disbarred Chesley for his role in the controversial fen-phen diet drug settlement – and just 10 days before he permanently retired from the practice of law in Ohio.
The Supreme Court ruled Chesley was overpaid for his work in negotiating a $200 million settlement in the fen-phen case, which sent two other lawyers to prison.
The court also found that Chesley committed eight counts of professional misconduct relating to fees and the payment agreement among attorneys, saying he “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.”
Chesley requested the leave to protect the organization, said Russell Robinson, the fund’s CEO.
“He has been an incredible leader,” Robinson said.
It was Chesley’s idea to build a fortified indoor playground in an Israeli town where children couldn’t play outside because of constant shelling.
“It was something that had never been built anywhere in the world,” Robinson said. “It was a great conversation, but it was as much about going to the moon.”
As impossible as it seemed, though, Chesley led the effort to raise $5 million for the facility in a month. It was built in nine months, Russell said, and is the largest fortified indoor playground in the world, with an indoor soccer field, a movie theater and birthday rooms.
Chesley and his firm also worked pro bono to get a $5 billion settlement with German corporations and Swiss and Austrian banks as restitution for Holocaust victims.
“In the Jewish world, Stan has been one of those national and international figures – well known to people in America and beyond,” said Lewis Kamrass, senior rabbi at the Isaac M. Wise Temple, who has known Chesley nearly 30 years. “When it comes to believing in a cause, he’s in.
"He’s there all the way.”
Deep Pockets For Democrats
Chesley has taken the same approach to political giving. He was an early supporter of Bill Clinton, back when he was known for being governor of Arkansas.
During a 2004 interview, Chesley’s office was packed with pictures of him with political dignitaries including former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and current Secretary of State John Kerry. Only photos of Chesley’s six grandchildren were more abundant.
Stan Chesley greets Bill Clinton on a visit to the Tri-State
“He supported Clinton when nobody else did,” said Lauren Chesley Cohen, Chesley’s daughter. “He was a huge supporter and a huge fan all the way through. My dad is incredibly loyal.”
Next page: How much Chesley gave
And those totals don’t include the millions raised at the many fundraisers that Chesley has hosted here in town for the Clintons and others.
Even in retirement, local political leaders expect Chesley will continue to donate to the candidates and causes he supports.
“That was one of the things we talked about the last time we talked,” said Tim Burke, president of Manley Burke LPA and chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party. “He wanted to make sure he knew where to send the check for a Hamilton County Democratic Party fundraiser.”
Chesley with his grandchildren taken in Nantucket 1996
Cohen said her father is every bit as generous with his children and grandchildren.
When she was in college at Boston University, her dad would visit at least once a year. They would go to New York to shop and see a Broadway show. One year they got tickets for “Cats” when the musical first started its run on Broadway.
“We were so excited to have these amazing seats,” she said. “We had been shopping and eating all day. We sat down in the theater, and the lights went out, and we both fell fast asleep.”
When Cohen was pregnant with her first daughter – the family’s first grandchild – an excited Chesley tried to be in the hospital room during labor before she asked him to leave.
Chesley with three of his grandchildren taken in 1996
He drove around Jewish Hospital for hours with a giant teddy bear in his front seat until he got word that the baby was born, Cohen said.
In more recent years, Chesley has been a regular at grandkids’ soccer games and horse shows. He visits his older grandchildren at college and knows their friends by name.
“Our older son graduates from college in Pennsylvania in May,” Rick Chesley said in an April interview. “With everything that’s going on with my father, what’s important to him is to make sure he can be at the graduation.”
Of course, that’s not the Chesley most people know.
Coming Tomorrow: Narcissist or Nice Guy? How a diet drug case that led to prison sentences for other lawyers unraveled Chesley’s 53-year career, led to his disbarment and forced him to retire.
Read Part I and II and follow the full four-part series at http://www.wcpo.com/generic/news/local_news/Stan-Chesley-How-a-single-case-dethroned-the-Prince-of-Torts .
iPad users can read the entire four part series now in the WCPO iPad app, free in the App Store at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wcpo-9-for-ipad-cincinnati/id481447058?mt=8