Fen-Phen trial begins against plantiffs'attorneys

By Chris Rizo | May 12, 2008

Judge William Bertelsman

COVINGTON, Ky. (Legal Newsline)-Three embattled plaintiffs' attorneys go on trial Monday for allegedly bilking clients out of $46 million from Kentucky's Fen-Phen settlement.

Jailed attorney Shirley Cunningham Jr. had contended that U.S. Senior District Judge William Bertelsman should not preside over the case since his prejudice in the matter renders him "wholly incapable of serving as a judge," according to an affidavit filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

Cunningham, 53, and co-defendants William Gallion, 57, and Melbourne Mills Jr., 76, have been held in the Boone County Detention Center without bail since August, pending their trial.

They are held on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a scheme to allegedly bilk more than 400 clients out of $46 million in Kentucky's $200 million Fen-Phen diet-pill settlement.

The jailed attorneys contend that Kentucky's rules on class action lawsuits are ambiguous. They said they relied on Boone Circuit Judge James Bamberger, who presided over the original Fen-Phen class action suit, to set the fees they received.

The Fen-Phen settlement was reached with diet drug maker American Home Products, now known as Wyeth, in Boone Circuit Court in 2001.

The attorneys' former clients have already won a $42 million civil award against the lawyers who represented them in a case taking on the manufacturer of Fen-Phen, the diet-drug linked to heart damage and pulmonary hypertension.

In February, citing the Fen-Phen case, outgoing Kentucky Chief Justice Joseph Lambert appointed a 12-member panel to study the state's court rules to determine whether they need strengthening to prevent unethical or illegal conduct in class-action cases.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at csrizo@hotmail.com.

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