The next step in the KBA Discipline proceedings is for the Board of Governors to review the findings. They can take additional evidence.
After the ruling by the Board of Governors, either party may appeal to the Ky. Supreme Court.
SUPREME COURT OF KENTUCKY
KBA FILE 13785 pi, »_
KENTUCKY BAR ASSOCIATION COMPLAINANT
STANLEY M. CHESLEY RESPONDENT
REPORT OF TRIAL COMMISSIONER
I. THE CHARGE
Pursuant to SCR 3.190, the Inquiry Commission charges that Stanley M. Chesley,
whose Kentucky Bar Association member number is 11810, engaged in professional
misconduct by violating the following nine ethical rules:
4. SCR 3.130-1.7
9. SCR 3.
Each rule will be specifically quoted in the Conclusions of Law.
II. THE PROCEEDINGS
A hearing regarding these charges began on November 5-6, and 12-13,2009, with
Judge Rod Messer presiding as the Trial Commissioner. Present representing the KBA
were Linda Gosnell, Esq., Carey Howard, Esq., and other staff members of the Bar. The
Respondent Stanley Chesley was present on some of the days with counsel (appearing at
various times), Kent Westberry, Esq., James Gary, Esq., Frank Benton, IV, Esq., Scott
Cox, Esq., Mark Miller, Esq., and the Honorable Susan Dlott, wife of the Respondent.
Prior to the hearing, testimony of video depositions from five witnesses located
out of the state were provided to the Trial Commissioner. These video recordings were
entered of record at the hearing. In this initial hearing 44 exhibits were introduced by the
Complainant through the out-of-state testimony of John Vardaman, Esq., Heidi Levine,
Esq., Helene Madonick, Esq., all three of whom represented the Defendant in the
underlying action, American Home Products. Also presented was the deposition of Faye
Stilz, Esq., an employee of the Respondent Chesley, and Frank Dominguez, a
representative of one of the banks in which the settlement funds from the underlying
action were held.
Approximately one week into the hearing, Judge Messer learned of a potential
conflict and recused with respect to the Respondent Chesley, but continued with the
charges against David Helmers. Subsequently, on March 9, 2010, this Trial
Commissioner was appointed to continue the hearing with respect to the Respondent
Chesley. That hearing resumed on September 13-15,20-24, 2010. Prior to the hearing
this Trial Commissioner reviewed all the pertinent records including the pleadings, the
depositions mentioned above, and all of the testimony given at trial prior to Judge
Messer’s recusal. Again the KBA was represented by Ms. Gosnell and Mr. Howard,
along with Bar Counsel paralegals. The Respondent was present and represented by
Mr. Gary, Mr. Benton, Mr. Cox, Mr. Miller, Esq., and Sheryl Snyder, Esq. Forty-three
witnesses gave testimony either by deposition or in person. The Trial Commissioner also
considered 124 exhibits.
At the conclusion of the hearing Counsel requested a briefing schedule. This
motion was granted, the transcript prepared, and briefing was concluded and the case was
submitted to the Trial Commissioner on January 31, 2011.
III. FACTUAL HISTORY
Both the Board of Governors and the Supreme Court are no doubt familiar with
many of the underlying events that led to these charges against the Respondent Chesley
from their review of the disciplinary cases of the other plaintiffs’ counsel in the
underlying action. These counsel include Shirley Cunningham, Melbourne Mills,
William Gallion, and David Helmers. The actions of the presiding judge, Joseph
Bamberger, are also before the Court in disciplinary proceedings taken against him. The
Judicial Conduct Commission also took action against Judge Bamberger, which resulted
in his resignation from the bench. We will focus therefore on a review of some of the
facts in this case as they relate specifically to the Respondent Chesley.
Chesley has argued and would have the Trial Commissioner believe that he was
brought into this case by plaintiffs’ other counsel for a very limited purpose of lending
his “expertise” to the case in acquiring a favorable settlement from the Defendant,
American Home Products (hereinafter AHP.) This argument is misleading and not
supported by the facts.
The lawsuit at issue in this proceeding, Darla Guard, et al or Jonetta Moore, et al
versus A.H. Robins Company, et al, (herein after the Guard case) was filed in Boone
Circuit Court as Civil Action Number 98-CI-759 in 1998. Counsel of record in that
action were William Gallion, Shirley Cunningham, and Melbourne Mills. The action was
filed and certified as a class action complaint on behalf of individual named plaintiffs and
“all those similarly situated” in Kentucky who claimed injury from certain diet drugs
commonly referred to as the fen-phen drugs. Cunningham and Mills, primarily through
advertising, had signed up hundreds, if not thousands of potential clients for the tort
claims against the manufacturer of the fen-phen drugs, AHP, and a doctor who prescribed
the drugs in Kentucky, Dr. Rex Duff. Gallion, who had previously shared offices with
Cunningham, was brought in as a litigator who would prepare the case and try it. David
Helmers was his associate.
Near the same time as the filing of the Guard case, many similar diet drug cases
were being filed in many jurisdictions across the country. Most were being consolidated
in a federal court action as multidistrict litigation (MLD) in the Eastern District of
Pennsylvania. Respondent Chesley was involved in representing plaintiffs in that federal
litigation and became a member of its management committee for purposes of settlement
negotiations with AHP. This federal action resulted in an agreed settlement for many diet
drug cases throughout the country.
The Guard case in Boone Circuit Court, however, was not removed to the federal
court and many plaintiffs in the Guard action signed opt-out agreements from the national
settlement. These cases were to proceed toward trial in the Boone Circuit Court.
Shortly after the Guard case had been certified as a class action on behalf of “all
Kentuckians who had consumed diet drugs prescribed by Dr. Duff,” another class action
(seeking a remedy of medical monitoring) was filed in Leslie Circuit Court by four
attorneys, Kenneth Buckle of Hyden, Kentucky, Alva Hollon of Florida, but licensed in
Kentucky, Michael Gallagher of Texas, and Robert Arledge of Mississippi. The
presiding judge of the Leslie Circuit Court certified this case as a class action on the same
day it was filed. This case was styled Feltner, et al versus AHP, et al, Case Number 99-
CI-127, Leslie Circuit Court. The two suits created problems for the AHP counsel as an
issue arose as to whether these cases were overlapping in their certified classes. This
problem seemingly was resolved, however, when the Feltner case nearly immediately
was removed to the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. It appeared
that the Feltner case would likely be transferred to the MDL proceedings in Philadelphia.
On July 30, 1999, Respondent Chesley filed his own class action complaint in the
Boone Circuit Court styled Courtney, et al versus AHP, et al, Case Number 99-CI-842.
His clients included three individuals. Two weeks later Respondent Chesley filed a
motion to consolidate his case with the Guard case. The Guard counsel, including
Gallion, strongly objected to this motion to consolidate. Interoffice memos between
Helmers and Gallion at this time reveal their strong objection to any attempt by Chesley
to enter their case.
Next, while the Feltner case was under stay in the federal court pending a possible
transfer to the MDL in Philadelphia, Respondent Chesley entered his appearance as
counsel for that plaintiff class on September 29,1999, in that case. Shortly thereafter, on
October 12, a notice of an Agreed Order to Remand the case to Leslie Circuit Court was
entered. Attorney Buckles’ signature on the order of remand contains the initials “SMC.”
David Schaefer, counsel for AHP, testified that the remand had been worked with AHP
by the Respondent Chesley. Upon remand of the Feltner action, cocounsel in the Feltner
case quickly moved to intervene in the Guard action in Boone Circuit Court. Almost at
the same time, Respondent Chesley filed a “status report” in the Courtney action in
Boone Circuit regarding the current status of his negotiations with Gallion to work
together in the Courtney and Guard cases. That status report contended that the Court
should consolidate Courtney and Guard despite the inability of the attorneys to come to
an agreement. The status report also informed Judge Bamberger of the order to remand
the Feltner case to the Leslie Circuit Court. Chesley cited this as an additional reason
that his case should be consolidated with the Guard case. He failed to inform the Boone
Circuit Court that it was he himself who had arranged for the remand.
Soon thereafter, Gallion and his cocounsel in the Guard case threw in the towel on
their efforts to resist Respondent Chesley’s entry into their case. The Guard counsel and
Respondent Chesley entered into a written stipulation to consolidate and the Courtney
case was thereby consolidated with the Guard action for “all purposes.” Once Courtney
was consolidated with the Guard class action, the Feltner matter fell by the wayside as far
as any involvement by these attorneys. Many of the Feltner claims were later settled as
part of an inventory settlement administered in another state. Likewise the Courtney
plaintiffs were not included in the Guard settlement but were sent back to the national
case. Respondent Chesley, however, had accomplished his goal ofjoining the class
action as counsel in the Boone Circuit Court. Soon thereafter, Gallion, Cunningham, and
Mills entered into a fee splitting contract with the Respondent Chesley and one other
Cincinnati attorney who had some clients in the class action. This agreement (KBA
Exhibit 147) was reached following a negotiation of all the attorneys in a meeting in
Under specific language in the agreement the attorneys agreed to be cocounsel in
the Guard action, but with designated roles for the various counsel. Respondent Chesley
agreed to act as “lead negotiator” in any attempts to settle the case. In this initial
agreement, if the case were successfully settled, he was to receive 27 % of the attorney
fees generated by the settlement of any individual opt-out cases or a settlement of the
entire class action. Gallion would be lead trial counsel in the event that the case had to be
tried. If there were no settlement but the plaintiffs prevailed at trial, Chesley’s portion of
the attorneys’ fees would be reduced to 15 %. This agreement had an expiration date of
December 31, 2000. The agreement also provided a specific provision allowing all
attorneys to review the fee contracts with the clients. Chesley claims that he never did
this. The agreement provides that the clients are to be notified, but they were not.
During the year 2000, attempts to negotiate a settlement with AHP were fruitless.
The Respondent Chesley conversed with John “Jack” Vardaman, a Washington lawyer,
who represented AHP and with whom Chesley had a longstanding professional
acquaintance. At the end of that year Chesley wrote a letter to Gallion requesting that
their fee agreement be renewed. This renewal of the agreement was accomplished and
resulted in a change in the fee splitting portion of the agreement. In the new agreement
Chesley’s percentage was reduced to 21 % (KBA Exhibit 148), upon a successful
Meanwhile, the Boone Circuit Court set the matter for trial in the summer of
2001. Before trial, however, the Court directed parties to make another attempt at a
negotiated settlement through a mediation. All parties met for mediation for two days,
April 30 and May 1 of 2001, in the offices of their mediator in Lexington, Kentucky.
Counsel present for the Defendant AHP were Jack Vardaman, Helene Madonick, and
local counsel David Schaefer. Counsel present for the Plaintiff class were Gallion,
Helmers, the Respondent Chesley, and for the second day Cunningham. Also present
was a “trial consultant” named Mark Modlin, a longtime personal friend of the presiding
In preparation for the mediation David Helmers sent both the mediators and
defense counsel binders of materials relating to the medical conditions of the Kentucky
opt-out clients with whom they attorneys had contracts. He also sent materials to
Chesley, which included a detailed chart breaking down proposed settlement ranges for
clients in these various injury categories. Included in that chart prominently near the top
was a notation that the fee contract rate to be applied to the settlement amounts was 30
percent (KBA Exhibit 261). After two days of negotiation, an agreement was reached for
an aggregate settlement of the Guard claims against AHP for $200 million. A settlement
agreement letter was drafted by counsel memorializing this “inventory” settlement.
Respondent Chesley did not sign this settlement letter agreement as one of the “settling
attorneys.” The only class plaintiffs included in the aggregate settlement were persons
who had fee contracts with either Gallion, Cunningham, Mills, or Lawrence. This letter
of agreement by its terms incorporated and contained reference to three exhibits, two of
which were, at the time the letter was signed, not yet in existence. One exhibit not yet in
existence was to contain the names of each individual client whose claims were settled by
the aggregate agreement. The other exhibit was to be a list of the amounts to be
designated to be the allocations of the total settlement fund for each of the individual
clients. These allocations to the individual clients were to be determined by plaintiffs’
The settlement agreement also contained two conditions precedent to the
agreement’s effectiveness that could only be ratified by order of the Boone Circuit Court.
One of those conditions was the decertification of the previously certified class action
and the other was the dismissal of the Guard lawsuit. The dismissal with respect to the
settling plaintiffs would be with prejudice; as to all other class members who were not the
opt-out clients of the settling attorneys, the dismissal was without prejudice. The
agreement also referred to and incorporated a “side letter” which outlined an agreement
by the settling attorneys and their clients that they would indemnify AHP for any claims
brought against Dr. Duff or his clinic up to $7.5 million (no such claims were ever made).
The clients were not informed of this indemnity nor in fact were they informed of any of
the terms of the settlement.
On May 9,2001, the Respondent Chesley, Gallion, Helmers, Cunningham, and
David Schaefer appeared before the Boone Circuit Court to present the results of this
negotiated settlement. No notice of this hearing was ever sent to a member of the class.
This astonishing hearing was recorded. It would be the last of any such recorded
proceedings before the Court. Before the hearing begins, counsel had presented the
presiding judge with a jointly drafted and proposed Order Decertifying Class and
Dismissing Action. At no point, however, either during or after the hearing did any of
the lawyers provide Judge Bamberger with a copy of the letter agreement itself. Judge
Bamberger’s questions and the Respondent Chesley’s response to those questions are
well worth viewing. Chesley deftly deflects the judge’s concerns about lack of notice to
either the class or any of the settling clients. In spite of his concerns, Judge Bamberger
signs the Order Decertifying Class and Dismissing Action that same day. This order was
not filed for record with the Boone Circuit Court, however, until May 16, 2001.
Following the settlement agreement and the hearing before Judge Bamberger
resulting in the Order Decertifying Class and Dismissing Action, Gallion, Cunningham,
Mills, and their employees began meeting with their clients and collecting releases from
them. No client was informed of the amount of the settlement or that the settlement
represented an aggregate settlement for 431 individuals. They were not told that the case
had already been dismissed by the Boone Circuit Court. Many of these clients have
testified in this proceeding as well as other disciplinary proceedings and court actions, all
to the same general effect of what they were told. Not one was ever shown the settlement
document, even though some asked to see it. The disclosure requirements specifically
required within the settlement document, as well as by Court rule, were essentially
ignored by class counsel. The clients were threatened with dire consequences if they
revealed the amounts and circumstances of their settlement to anyone, including their
After obtaining the requisite percentage of client releases, David Helmers, on
instructions from the Respondent Chesley, flew to New York City to hand-deliver them
to the appropriate officials at AHP. Shortly after the delivery of these releases, AHP
made its initial deposit of $150 million (three-fourths of the total) to a Cunningham client
trust account. Shortly thereafter, on June 19, 2001, Chesley received a check for
$12,372,534.37. Later on July 5 and August 4, 2001, two additional checks totaling
$4,124,287.50 were mailed to Chesley. As a result of this initial distribution to class
counsel, Chesley received a total of $16,497,121.87. We deem Respondent Chesley to be
reasonably conversant with fifth grade arithmetic. Even a rough calculation would reveal
that the sixteen and a half million dollars received by Chesley is several million in excess
of the 21 % of the attorney’s fees to which he was contractually entitled.
The criminal schemes of Gallion, Cunningham, and Mills began to unravel soon
thereafter. The story, well documented in other disciplinary proceedings before the
Kentucky Bar, are by now familiar to both the Board of Governors and the Court. It is a
sordid tale worthy of the pen of Charles Dickens were he alive and well. Alas, this tale is
Initially, the law practice partners of both Gallion and Mills became suspicious of
the handling of the proceeds from the Guard settlement. Both Michael Baker (against his
former partner Gallion) and David Stuart (against his former partner Mills) brought suit
alleging entitlement to proceeds from the settlement. In the course of their discussions
regarding their grievances, Baker informed Stuart that the settlement had been for $200
million. This was a surprise to Stuart, and when he mentioned this to Mills, Mills was
shocked. Mills had not attended the settlement negotiations and, at the time of the
settlement, Gallion had lied to Mills and told him that the settlement was for $150
million. On February 6, 2002, Gallion attended an office birthday party for Mills. In a
heated exchange, Mills confronted Gallion concerning the $50 million lie. He demanded
that an additional distribution be made to the clients from these funds and then ordered
Gallion to leave his office.
That very evening, Gallion, Cunningham, and Judge Bamberger’s good friend
Modlin met with the Respondent Chesley in Boone County. The party then paid a visit to
Judge Bamberger in the jury room of the Boone Circuit Courthouse. No motion had been
filed, no notice given, and no record made of this extraordinary ex parte meeting with the
Judge. Respondent Chesley claims that he does not recall this meeting, but his failure to
recollect is not credible. The Commissioner finds by a preponderance of evidence he did
attend this meeting and played a leading role in the presentation made to Judge
Bamberger on that evening. Among other issues taken up with the Judge, Chesley argued
the appropriateness of an application of the cy pres doctrine to dispose of “extra” funds
remaining in the possession of the attorneys and provided a legal memorandum in
support of this argument. He also made an argument for an order approving attorneys’
fees and cited factors from a case called Grinnell v. Detroit as governing the issue. It is
unclear which Grinnell case was cited. In any event, no mention was made to the Judge
of the fact that the attorney’s fees were governed by contracts with the clients and by a
contract among the lawyers. Still Judge Bamberger at the time of this “meeting” had
never been provided with settlement documents or any other financial or accounting
documents in the case. The result of this extraordinary “meeting” was Judge
Bamberger’s oral approval of attorneys’ fees totaling 49 % of the $200 million settlement
as appropriate. The resulting written order was signed somewhat later.
Meanwhile, both Baker and Stuart had contacted the Kentucky Bar Association
with their concerns over the handling of this settlement money. On January 30, 2002, an
application requesting the Kentucky Bar’s Inquiry Commission to issue subpoenas to
Gallion, Cunningham, Mills, and Bank One was filed and served upon Mills. February
11, 2002, was the hearing date set for this application.
On February 11, 2002, the Inquiry Commission, over the objection of Mills’
counsel, authorized issuance of the subpoena application for bank records and other
records relating to the receipt and disbursement of the settlement funds from the Guard
case. That same afternoon, five wire transfers totaling approximately $59 million were
made by Gallion and Cunningham from several of their personal accounts into an account
at First Union Bank in the joint names of Gallion, Cunningham, and Mills.
On February 15,2002, Judge Bamberger signed the order which he had orally
agreed to a few nights previously. This order approved all attorneys’ fees paid but made
no mention of an amount either in numbers or percentages. This order also authorized
further distributions of funds to clients of half the remaining funds, the amount of which
was not specified. This order, although apparently signed on February 15, was not filed
for record with the Boone Circuit Clerk until June 6, 2002.
Sometime after the “meeting” with Judge Bamberger, Respondents Chesley and
Gallion both contacted David Helmers who was then established in his own firm and
asked him to assist in a “second distribution” to the clients. Helmers received a letter
from Respondent Chesley’s office providing him with a document to show to each client
and have them sign. David Helmers, along with employees from the other firms,
followed these instructions with all of the clients.
On April 1, 2002, Respondent Chesley received an additional check for $4
million, not drawn on the client trust account from which his previous fees had been paid,
but drawn on a different account in a bank outside of Kentucky. Respondent Chesley’s
fees now totaled in excess of $20 million.
Over the spring months in 2002, the Guard clients received a second distribution
from their attorneys. However, Judge Bamberger’s order approving the second
distribution and approving additional attorneys’ fees was not filed with the Boone Circuit
Clerk until June 6, 2002. Concurrently with this filing, the Judge entered an order sealing
the record and restricting the Clerk’s certificate of service in the Guard case to only Mills,
Gallion, Cunningham, Helmers, and Chesley. All subsequent orders over the following
months were mailed only to those individuals. Judge Bamberger’s order approving
additional attorneys’ fees listed no amount and provided no accounting. Again, there was
no motion, no notice and no hearing for the entry of this order.
The Respondent Chesley received this June 6, 2002, order and must have been
well aware of its factual inaccuracies. He claims, unconvincingly, that he did not read it.
The Respondent Chesley also was noticed on the series of subsequent orders purporting
to create the nonprofit corporation funded by the undistributed remains of the settlement
moneys. We now know those remaining proceeds to be $20 million, although this
amount was never mentioned in an order.
On another front in 2002, William E. Johnson of Frankfort, Kentucky, was
representing Mills in his response to the Kentucky Bar Association’s Inquiry
Commission’s subpoena. Whitney Wallingford represented Gallion and Cunningham in
responding to the subpoenas which they had been issued. At a meeting attended by
Wallingford, Mills, Johnson, Gallion, Cunningham and Chesley, Chesley urged that all
counsel from the Guard case who had received subpoenas from the Bar Association be
represented by the same counsel, William E. Johnson. The Respondent Chesley attended
this meeting and urged the joint representation by Mr. Johnson even though he had not
received subpoenas from the Inquiry Commission. After that meeting, Wallingford
agreed to withdraw as counsel for Gallion and Cunningham, but he completed a
submission to the Bar on which he had previously been working. Before filing his
submission, as he had been instructed, he sent a copy to Chesley for his approval. This
submission contained a chart which inaccurately and grossly inflated the amounts of
money that had been paid to the clients. Chesley called Wallingford and told him to go
ahead and submit it to the KBA, and Wallingford complied.
On still another front, David Stuart had filed an action against Mills relating to the
dissolution of their law firm. Stuart demanded that Mills provide an accounting of the
firm’s total income, including amounts received from the settlement of the Guard case.
As part of Stuart’s discovery, Stuart’s counsel had obtained a commission from the
Fayette Circuit Court authorizing the out-of-state deposition of the Respondent Chesley
and the authorization of an appropriate subpoena. Mediation of this lawsuit was ordered
and Mills attended along with his former partner, Stuart, their respective counsel and
others. The others included an employee of Mills, Rebecca Phipps, who had been in
contact with Chesley in her efforts to be appointed to the Board of Directors for the
Kentucky Fund for Healthy Living, the nonprofit corporation founded to dispose of the
$20 million “leftover” fund. Chesley had made arrangements with Rebecca Phipps to
contact him if it appeared that the parties were encountering difficulties with the
settlement. Mills’ offer for settlement fell short of Stuart’s demand. At some point
Phipps excused herself from the mediation and called the Respondent Chesley to inform
him of this stalemate. Chesley informed her that he would contribute the difference to
get the matter settled. Respondent Chesley ended up wiring $500,000 to a client trust
account to be combined with Mills’ money and then used to pay the Stuart settlement.
Apparently $250,000 of that amount was later reimbursed to him from his other
cocounsel, Gallion and Cunningham. Stuart’s action was settled without the necessity of
Respondent Chesley’s deposition.
A new fire soon developed on another front. An attorney in Lexington in January
2005 filed an action in Boone Circuit Court on behalf of several of the Guard clients
against the Respondent Chesley, Cunningham, Gallion, Mills and the Kentucky Fund for
Healthy Living. In his response to this action, Chesley admits having acted as class
counsel in the Guard case. Subsequent pleadings denied that he had ever acted as class
counsel. He also filed a motion to dismiss and attached redacted copies of his fee
agreements wherein language identifying him as cocounsel had been removed.
Also in 2005, when the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission preferred charges
against Judge Bamberger for his alleged misconduct in the Guard case, the Respondent
Chesley met with Bamberger to prepare for his meeting with the Commission. He
attended this meeting before the Conduct Commission and apparently argued in support
of Bamberger’s application of the cy pres doctrine and the establishment of the Kentucky
Fund for Healthy Living. After this appearance, Judge Bamberger resigned his office and
has since been disciplined by the Kentucky Bar.
With the civil action against Chesley and his Guard co-counsel under way,
(Abbott, et al. v. Chesley, et al., Case No. 05-CI-735, Boone Circuit Court), Chesley
called his friend, Kenneth Feinberg, to enlist his assistance in obtaining an affidavit in
support of the actions by co-counsel in the Guard settlement. Feinberg obtained the
information for the preparation of his affidavit from Gallion. In this proceeding Feinberg
disavowed the information which he provided in his affidavit and stated that if he knew
what he knows now he would have thrown the affidavit in the wastebasket. He was
supposed to have been paid $50,000 by Gallion, but Gallion never paid this amount.
Chesley testified that he was embarrassed to discover that Gallion had not paid Feinberg,
so he gave him $10,000. Feinberg was never informed that this affidavit had been filed
of record in the Abbott case by a codefendant of the Respondent.
Sometime in 2006 Chesley also dropped by the office of AHP’s counsel in
Washington, D.C., Jack Vardaman. He left a copy of the settlement agreement with
handwritten notes attached and asked Vardaman to send him a letter along the lines of
Chesley’s notes. Chesley’s first note read: “This case was settled as a class action.
Decertification was not relevant to the collateral issues of attorneys’ fees or
administration of the settlement proceeds and process.” Vardaman testified that this was
not a true statement. Nor were other statements suggested thereon by Chesley.
Vardaman wisely did not send the requested letter. (Vardaman deposition, pp. 67-71).
In late March of 2006, Respondent Chesley was informed that the Inquiry
Commission was now investigating his conduct in the Guard case. The Commission
requested written responses to a number of questions. The Commission received its
responses on May 9, August 8 and October 4, 2006. The Respondent’s responses are in
some instances misleading, other instances incomplete, and in some instances outright
falsehoods. These responses will be dealt with individually in the conclusions of law.
On December 4,2006, the Inquiry Commission issued its Complaint of
Misconduct against Respondent Chesley and this hearing ensued.
IV. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
The Respondent Chesley is charged with violating three provisions of Kentucky’s
Rules of Professional Conduct with respect to his collection in the Guard case of fees in
excess of $20 million.
1. Supreme Court Rule 3.13 0-1.5 (a) provides in pertinent part:
“[a] lawyer’s fee shall be reasonable. Some factors to be considered in
determining the reasonableness of a fee include the following: (1) The time
and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and
the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (2) The likelihood that
the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment
by the lawyer; (3) The fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal
services; (4) The amount involved and the results obtained; (5) The time
limitations imposed by the circumstances; (6) The nature and length of the
professional relationship with the client; (7) The experience, reputation and
ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services; (8) Whether the fee is
fixed or contingent.”
Without question the Respondent’s acceptance of fees of more than $20 million in
this litigation is unreasonable and a violation of the above quoted rule. Not only is the
Respondent’s fee part and parcel of the grossly unreasonable fees collected by the
lawyers in this case in light of what the clients had contracted to pay, it is ethically
unreasonable under the above criteria per se. The evidence presented by Vicki Hamm
based upon the financial records of the transactions documenting the fees paid by counsel
to themselves is unrefuted. Even a simplistic calculation of what Chesley was entitled to
under the contractual agreements with the clients is somewhat less than $13 million, not
in excess of $20 million. Respondent Chesley was present and participated in argument
to Judge Bamberger wherein the Judge approved fees in the case of 49 %. In fact, he
argued the holdings of the Grinnell case to Judge Bamberger. In that case a fee of 15
percent was reversed as excessive. The greed evidenced by the plaintiffs’ attorneys in
this case is astounding, and Chesley, although his avarice may not be as breathtaking as
that of Cunningham, Gallion and Mills, is culpable of unethical conduct under this rule.
2. Supreme Court Rule 3.13 0-1.5 (c) provides in pertinent part:
“[a] fee may be contingent on the outcome of the matter for which the service
is rendered, except in a matter in which a contingent fee is prohibited by
paragraph (d) or other law. Such a fee must meet the requirements of Rule
1.5(a). A contingent fee agreement shall be in writing and should state the
method by which the fee is to be determined, including the percentage or
percentages that shall accrue to the lawyer in the event of settlement, trial or
appeal, litigation and other expenses to be deducted from the recovery, and
whether such expenses are to be deducted before or after the contingent fee is
calculated. Upon recovery of any amount in a contingent fee matter, the
lawyer shall provide the client with a written statement stating the outcome of
the matter and showing the remittance to the client and the method of its
Without question the Respondent Chesley has violated this ethical standard. All
the clients in this class action had contractual contingency fee agreements with class
counsel. These fees were either for 30 % or 33 1/3 %. Under the contractual agreements
counsel were also permitted to charge expenses up to 3 %. All attorney fees in the Guard
case should have been calculated from the total recovery of each individual client based
upon the contractual percentage agreed to by that client. The above quoted rule was
completely ignored by all class counsel. Chesley participated with his co-counsel in
charging a 49 % contingency fee to these clients with no accurate written statement of the
fees, expenses or method of determining the fee provided to anyone. Chesley’s
contractual agreement with class counsel was for 21 percent of fees upon successful
settlement of the case. Ms. Hamm’s chart based upon the financial records of these
transactions clearly demonstrates what Chesley’s fees should have been under these
contingent fee contracts. Chesley’s share should have been $12,941,638.46. This
amounts to a bit more, (a relative term in these circumstances), than his initial payment
on June 19, 2001. The circumstances of the later payments is of record. Of course the
final $4 million payment came only after Chesley lent his critical assistance in persuading
Judge Bamberger to sign the order approving the unjustified fees after their unrecorded
meeting in Boone County. Chesley was paid some $7,555,000 in excess of his proper fee
calculations under the contracts.
3. Supreme Court Rule 3.130-1.5(e) provides in pertinent part:
“[a] division of a fee between lawyers who are not in the same firm may be
made only if: (1) (a) The division is in proportion to the services performed
by each lawyer or, (b) By written agreement with the client, each lawyer
assumes joint responsibility for the representation; and (2) The client is
advised of and does not object to the participation of all lawyers involved; and
(3) The total fee is reasonable.”
The Respondent Chesley has violated the above quoted rule in numerous respects.
No client was ever advised of Chesley’s participation nor ever given an opportunity to
object. Chesley himself took no measures to ensure compliance with this rule and made
no inquires concerning advice to the clients. As noted above the total fees are clearly
unreasonable. Chesley argues that he was hired to represent Gallion, Cunningham and
Mills in this case – not the class. This argument is belied by all the actions and
documents in the case. The obligation to inform the clients and obtain their consent to a
division of fees among lawyers from different firms lies with all the lawyers involved.
The lack of notice to, and advice and consent of, the clients in the Guard class was
obvious to all class counsel. Indeed, Chesley’s own expert witness was at a loss to
explain how this rule had been followed.
4. Supreme Court Rule 3.130-1.7 provides in pertinent part:
“[a] lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation of that client will
be directly adverse to another client unless: (1) The lawyer reasonably
believes the representation will not adversely affect the relationship with the
other client; and (2) Each client consents after consultation, (b) A lawyer
shall not represent a client if the representation of that client may be
materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client or to a
third person, or by the lawyer’s own interest, unless: (1) The lawyer
reasonably believes the representation will not be adversely affected; and (2)
The client consents after consultation. When representation of multiple
clients in a single matter is undertaken, the consultation shall include
explanation of the implications of the common representation and the
advantages and risks involved.”
The Commissioner cannot find a clear violation of this rule in the evidence. Bar
counsel argues violation of this ethical principle in two respects. First, the Respondent
Chesley and other counsel in the Guard action, agreed to the decertification of the case
and a dismissal “without prejudice” with respect to the 70 “unknown” members of the
Guard class without notice of either the May hearing before the Boone Circuit Court or
notice after entry of the order. Without question the identity of these 70 opt-out class
members could have been discovered from AHP. But the obligations of class counsel
with respect to such notice under Civil Rule 23 or any other legal principle is unsettled.
Notice, in our view, is the better rule, but some jurisdictions hold otherwise.
Second, Bar counsel argued that Chesley’s actions in settling three other
individual claims for severely injured plaintiffs who suffered from PPH as a result of
ingesting fen-phen drugs conflicted with his representation of the Guard class. Although
such practices merit close examination, this Commissioner can find no evidence that
these settlements affected or impacted the aggregate settlement made for the 431
members of the Guard class in any adverse way.
5. Supreme Court Rule 3.130-1.8(g) provides in pertinent part:
“[a] lawyer who represents two or more clients shall not participate in making
an aggregate settlement of the claims of or against the clients…., unless each
client consents after consultation, including disclosure of the existence and
nature of all the claims… and of the participation of each person in the
A more egregious violation of this ethical rule by all plaintiff counsel in the Guard
case is difficult to imagine. This includes the Respondent Chesley. The settlement
agreement itself specifically provides contractually for compliance with this rule by the
“settling” attorneys. Chesley points out that he did not sign the settlement agreement as
one of the “settling” attorneys, even though he was noticed with the final agreement. It is
important to note that this ethical rule exists separately from the settlement agreement
and is an independent requirement in and of itself in any aggregate settlement. There is
no evidence in the record that clients were consulted concerning the aggregate settlement
before, during or after the mediation before it was presented to the Boone Circuit Court.
No notice was given to either settling claimants or those 70 who were dismissed without
prejudice. Respondent Chesley does not escape liability for this rule simply because he
had the foresight not to sign the settlement document. He was class counsel pursuant to
his agreement with Cunningham, Gallion and Mills. Chesley was fully aware that his
clients had not been informed concerning the settlement at the time the agreement was
reached and afterward. He was fully aware that no notice had been sent to the settling
clients prior to the hearing on May 9, 2001, in Boone Circuit Court. Chesley himself
bamboozled Judge Bamberger with his often non-sensical answers to the Judge’s queries
about notice. The actions of the Respondent Chesley and his co-counsel were deliberate
and dishonest. Their failure to comply with this rule demonstrates their true motivation -
to get the money and run – rather than to protect the interest of their clients.
6. Supreme Court Rule 3.130-3.3(a) provides in pertinent part:
“[a] lawyer shall not knowingly: (1) make a false statement of material fact or
law to a tribunal; (2) Fail to disclose a material fact to the tribunal when
disclosure is necessary to avoid a fraud being perpetrated upon the tribunal…”
The Respondent Chesley violated this ethical rule by his participation in the
“meeting” with Judge Bamberger in the jury room of the Boone Circuit Courthouse in
2002. He participated in the argument that the Grinnell case provided legal authority
justifying attorney’s fees totaling 49 % of the total recovery of $200 million. Chesley
knew at this time that his clients all had contractual agreements for attorney’s fees much
less than this amount. He was aware that there was no notice given and that the
presentation was being made to the judge behind closed doors and off the record. He
made no effort to disclose to the Court that the attorneys had contingency fee contracts.
Chesley also provided a written memorandum arguing the application of the cy
pres doctrine to create a charitable fund for what the attorneys described for the Judge as
“extra” settlement funds. This doctrine clearly had no proper legal application to the
aggregate settlement in the Guard action.
Furthermore, in the May 9, 2001, hearing he argued to Judge Bamberger that no
notice was needed to the class members of the agreement to settle the case and decertify
the class. This decision had significant legal ramifications for both the 431 who settled
and for the 70 who did not. He also argued for dismissal of the action without notice to
any members of the class. Chesley was presented to the Court as the “expert” in these
class action matters. He mislead the Court regarding notice while knowing full-well that
his clients had neither been informed of the settlement nor had given their consent.
7. Supreme Court Rule 3.150-8.1 (a) provides in pertinent part:
“…a lawyer…in connection with a disciplinary matter, shall not: knowingly
make a false statement of material fact.”
Respondent Chesley has violated this ethical provision in several instances. In
making his responses to questions asked him during the investigation into his conduct in
the Guard litigation by the Inquiry Commission of the Kentucky Bar, Respondent’s
answers were incomplete, misleading and/or false. He answered Bar questions in letters
dated May 9,2006, and August 8, 2006 (KBA Exhibits 266 and 270). In answering a
question regarding his communications with other Guard attorneys or Judge Bamberger
regarding the appropriateness of the use of the
cy pres doctrine, Chesley gave a seriously distorted reply. He made no mention of his
off-the-record meeting with Judge Bamberger in February 2002 wherein he presented
legal authority supporting the appropriateness of a cy pres fund. His answer to the next
question, Number 15, is false and misleading wherein he denies any communications of
any nature with Judge Bamberger regarding the establishment of a charity or nonprofit
entity to disburse any funds from the Guard settlement. Again no mention is made of his
participation in the 2002 courthouse “meeting”. His answer to Question 16 is untruthful.
Chesley was well aware that there would be a second distribution prior to his receipt of
the $4 million check. He himself had called David Helmers asking him to assist in the
second distribution. An employee of his law office delivered a letter to Helmers to have
the clients sign in the course of this distribution. His answers to Question 17 and 18 are
not truthful. He in fact did communicate with counsel regarding the second distribution
of funds and met with Judge Bamberger in this secret 2002 meeting to discuss the second
distribution. Experienced counsel in his office participated in drafting the deceptive letter
to be given to the Guard clients upon receipt of a second distribution. These answers
were egregious misrepresentations, if not outright lies, to the Inquiry Commission.
8. Supreme Court Rule 3.150-8.3(c)(now 8.4) provides in pertinent part: that it
is misconduct for a lawyer to “[ejngage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or
Clearly from the evidence, Respondent Chesley believed that he would be able to
"take his money and run" after the settlement and avoid any responsibility in the
distribution of the settlement to the clients. When he became aware of the misdeeds of
Cunningham, Gallion and Mills, his responsive actions all became part of an attempt to
conceal and cover up their misdeeds. Chesley must have been fully aware of the fraud
perpetrated by his accepting fees far in excess of what he was entitled to under his
contractual arrangement. He was fully aware that no accounting had been made to the
clients or to the Court. Rather than taking actions to correct these misdeeds, to inform his
clients and the Court, and to disgorge ill gotten gain, Chesley acted with dishonesty,
deceit and misrepresentation in assisting his co-counsel in their efforts to conceal what
had transpired. His entire course of conduct was one of self-interest and self-preservation
of both himself and his co-counsel. His actions set out above evidence a complete lack of
concern for his clients and the proper and just application of the law.
9. Supreme Court Rule 3.150-5.1 (c)( 1) provides in pertinent part:
"[a] lawyer shall be responsible for another lawyer’s violation of the Rules of
Professional Conduct only if: The lawyer orders or, with knowledge of
specific conduct, ratifies the conduct involved…”
Respondent Chesley has violated this ethical provision in numerous respects.
Chesley had to have learned that the settlement fund had not been properly administered
and distributed to the clients when he learned after Mills’ confrontation with Cunningham
that a second distribution would be required. That evening he along with Gallion and
Cunningham met with Judge Bamberger in their off-the-record “meeting”. Chesley’s
actions in attending that meeting and all actions he took subsequently were designed to
assist his co-counsel in a “cover-up” of their thievery. It is clear from the evidence that
from this point on Chesley became “counsel in chief. He attended meetings to settle
David Stuart’s suit against his former partner Mills and made a significant contribution to
that settlement in order to avoid depositions and publicity. Counsel were instructed to
obtain his approval before sending documents to the Inquiry Commission and he
specifically approved a document sent by Whitney Wallingford to the KBA which was
later determined to contain false and misleading information. He assisted Judge
Bamberger in his presentation to the Judicial Conduct Commission. He accepted an
additional $4 million fee after his “meeting” with Judge Bamberger to argue for an order
allowing the second distribution and approval of attorneys’ fees up to 49 %. From
February of 2002 on the evidence clearly demonstrates that the Respondent Chesley was
involved in, and at many points primarily orchestrating, the attempts of his co-counsel to
conceal their fraud.
V. RECOMMENDED SANCTIONS
SCR 3.380 provides the following degrees of discipline upon findings of ethical
violations defined in the Supreme Court Rules:
“Upon findings of a violation of these rules, discipline may be administered by
way of private reprimand, public reprimand, suspension from practice for a
definite time with or without conditions as the Court may impose, or permanent
Respondent Chesley took more than $7 million in fees beyond his contractual
agreement with his co-counsel. These fees came not from the portions allotted to cocounsel,
but from the Guard clients themselves. He took these fees with no notice to the
Guard clients and with no disclosure or accounting in any court proceeding or court
order. Indeed, $4 million of these fees, his “bonus”, came only after his clandestine
“meeting” with Judge Bamberger wherein he participated in urging the Court’s blanket
approval of attorneys’ fees totaling 49 % of the $200 million settlement funds. Chesley’s
greed may not be as eye-popping as that of his co-counsel, Gallion and Cunningham, but
it is no less egregious.
It is difficult to discern exactly when Chesley must have become aware of the
criminal enterprise undertaken by Gallion and Cunningham, but it is clear from the
evidence that well before he received his $4 million “bonus”, he was fully aware that a
major portion of the funds had not been properly distributed to the clients. He willingly
and actively participated in the February 6, 2002, “meeting” with Judge Bamberger in
order to get the Court’s stamp of approval upon this criminal enterprise. He subsequently
received all orders signed by Judge Bamberger containing many statements which
Chesley knew to be false and inaccurate. Never in any instance did Chesley, the
experienced class action “expert”, take action properly to inform the Court or his Guard
clients that something was amiss. Every action taken by Chesley after this meeting with
Judge Bamberger was calculated to assist in the cover-up of these misdeeds by Gallion,
Cunningham and Mills. His callous subordination of the interests of his clients to his
own greed is both shocking and reprehensible. His actions justify a permanent
disbarment from the Kentucky Bar Association.
Bar Counsel have argued aggravating circumstances in this case. Other Kentucky
disciplinary cases have called for consideration of aggregating factors in determining
discipline. The ABA standards for imposing lawyer sanctions provides a guide as a
model system to assist in the determination of proper sanctions. These ABA standards
have been cited favorably by the Kentucky Supreme Court. [See Anderson v. KBA,
262 SW 3rd 636 (Ky. 2008)]. The relevant aggravating circumstances are as follows:
9.21 Definition. Aggravation or aggravating circumstances are any
considerations, or factors that may justify an increase in the degree of
discipline to be imposed.
9.22 Factors which may be considered in aggravation.
Aggravating factors include:
(a) prior disciplinary offenses;
(b) dishonest or selfish motive;
(c) a pattern of misconduct;
(d) multiple offenses;
(e) bad faith obstruction of the disciplinary proceeding by
intentionally failing to comply with rules or orders of the
(f) submission of false evidence, false statements, or other
deceptive practices during the disciplinary process;
(g) refusal to acknowledge wrongful nature of conduct;
(h) vulnerability of victim;
(i) substantial experience in the practice of law;
(j) indifference to making restitution.”
With the exception of factors (a) and (e), all these factors apply emphatically to
Counsel for Chesley argue that mitigating factors exist in his favor. Indeed, he
has never been disciplined by any bar association in a long and distinguished career. But
his character witnesses and his prior unblemished record are insufficient to mitigate
Chesley’s egregious conduct in this case.
It is furthermore appropriate that Chesley disgorge the $7,555,000.00 excess fees
which he received in this case. This sum should be provided as restitution to his clients
either through the auspices of the Abbott case, should those clients prevail, or some other
means designed by the Court.
This the 22nd day of February, 2011.
HON. WILLIAM L. GRAHAM
Certificate of Service
I certify that the original of this Report of Trial Commissioner was filed with the
Disciplinary clerk of the Kentucky Bar Association, 514 West Main Street, Frankfort,
Kentucky 40601-1883 this 22nd day of February, 2011.
HON. WILLIAM L. GRAHAM
Comment sent to LawReader re: Graham Findings.
Dear Sir I can’t help butting in – FYI– in reading Wm Graham’s report, e.g., p. 27— He doesn’t know that Bill Gallion on 2/28/02 outlined the entire settlement to Linda Gosnell. This was her testimony in the trial before Danny Reeves. Bill Gallion wasn’t hiding anything. Also they made a full accounting of Settlement funds to the Bar in 4/02. Is it proper to blame attorneys for lack of oversight by the court. Bar and govt keep saying the Judge didn’t know this , didn’t know that.. Does he have an obligation to ask, to be informed !
How grossly unfair and ridiculous is it to accuse attorneys for not telling the Judge there were contingency fee contracts. In the first trial on cross examination Judge Bamberger concerning such contracts explained his lack of knowledge on the fact that in class actions there are no contracts… he forgot the clients were not before him pursuant to Notice ordered by the court but rather pursuant to television advertisements. Mr. Almand’s questioning of Judge Bamberger in this matter is highly instructive.
Needless to say we think Mr. Graham got it wrong. It was not the Aggregate Settlement that he outlined. It was not a settlement solely for 431 people. AHP was financially benefited in getting the Duff Class decertified and they paid a great deal of money to make it go away. Hon. Mike Dowling