Legal Ethics

Jury Acquits Fen-Phen Lawyer Who Used Drinking Defense in Fraud Case

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A jury has acquitted one of three lawyers accused of defrauding their fen-phen clients out of $65 million in settlement proceeds.

Jurors acquitted Melbourne Mills Jr. but indicated they have not reached a unanimous agreement regarding the two other defendants, William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham Jr., the Louisville Courier-Journal reports.

The lawyers were accused of keeping $45 million in settlement money for themselves and putting another $20 million into a charity they controlled. Jurors have been deliberating for six days.

Mills’ lawyer had argued he was an alcoholic who was unable to form the intent to defraud his clients, the Associated Press reports. Mills’ paralegal, Rebecca Phipps, had testified her boss was drinking “around the clock” when the case settled.

Phipps said Mills believed Cunningham and Gallion had tried to cheat him out of his fair share of the fees. She said he was furious with Gallion because he told him the settlement was only for $150 million, $50 million less than the actual number.

U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman said Mills was “discharged and free to go.” He ordered jurors to continue deliberations on charges against Cunningham and Gallion.

Mills could be seen mouthing the words “thank you” to jurors. His girlfriend, Darlene La, told the Courier-Journal that Mills was the victim of the two other defendants. “I knew all the time he wasn’t guilty,” she said. “I think he just got tied up in a bad deal.”

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