Legal Ethics

Editorial Hits ‘Kentucky Trial Derby’

A Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) editorial takes aim at Kentucky for its lax oversight of three tort lawyers accused of overpaying themselves as much as $62 million in a diet drug settlement.

The case has become “a black eye for Kentucky’s legal establishment,” the newspaper says. It takes issue with the state bar association for failing to take appropriate action and a Kentucky state judge who approved the initial 2001 settlement.

The three lawyers—William Gallion, Shirley Cunningham Jr., and Melbourne Mills—have been indicted by a federal grand jury on fraud charges in connection with the case. A federal judge, William Bertelsman, has jailed them as flight risks.

“Judge Bertelsman has been the only one clear-eyed enough to realize that the foot-dragging and wink-winking that has characterized the treatment of these attorneys has already left a bad taste about the way some lawyers and judges protect their own,” the newspaper says.

The judge who approved the 2001 settlement, Joseph F. Bamburger, said the lawyers were entitled to extra money for the risky nature of the litigation and their administrative headaches. He also permitted the lawyers to establish a charity with $20 million of the settlement proceeds.

Bamburger became a director of the charity at a salary of $5,000 a month when he retired in 2004, the newspaper says. The judge later returned the money.

The editorial, headlined “Kentucky Trial Derby,” also criticizes a state judge overseeing civil litigation against the attorneys for failing to require them to return the disputed fees.

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