Diet Mania, Greed, and the Infamous Fen-Phen Swindle
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
244 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: February 2021
During the early 1990s, the diet drugs fen-phen and Redux achieved tremendous popularity. The chemical combination was discovered by chance, marketed with hyperbole, and prescribed to millions. But as the drugs' developer, pharmaceutical giant American Home Products, cashed in on the miracle weight-loss pills, medical researchers revealed that the drugs caused heart valve disease. This scandal was, incredibly, only the beginning of an unbelievable saga of greed.
In Fat Chance, Rick Christman recounts a story that a judicial tribunal later described as "a tale worthy of the pen of Charles Dickens." Bill Gallion, Shirley Cunningham, and Melbourne Mills contrived to bring a class-action lawsuit against American Home Products in Covington, Kentucky. Their hired trial consultant, Mark Modlin, had a bizarre relationship with the presiding judge, Jay Bamberger of Covington, who was once honored as the Kentucky Bar Association's "Judge of the Year." Soon after, Stan Chesley, arguably the most successful trial attorney in the United States, joined the class-action suit. Ultimately, their efforts were rewarded with $200 million for the 431 plaintiffs, and the four lawyers immediately began to plunder their clients' money. When the fraud was discovered, two of the attorneys received long prison sentences and another was acquitted after claiming an alcoholism defense. All four were permanently banished from the practice of law and Judge Bamberger was disbarred and disrobed.
Recounting a dramatic affair that bears conspicuous similarities to opioid-related class-action litigation against the pharmaceutical industry, Christman offers an engaging, if occasionally horrifying, account of one of America's most prominent product liability cases and the settlement's aftermath.
IntroductionA Prescription for DisasterCashing InIt Hits the FanThe MasterThe TroikaBrothers in ArmsA Very Strange ThingLowering the BarThe DealJudge NotBad Times, Good TimesThe AlligatorThe CrucibleThe Second BiteCorneredEpilogueTimelines
" Fat Chance chronicles the plunder of clients by lawyers in the fen-phen diet drug scandal, focusing on a quartet of avaricious attorneys. The tale and its cavalcade of crazy, double-dealing characters is the stuff of John Grisham. It should, however, be on reading lists for law students, taught in tort classes, and used in legal ethics seminars (if there are any left)." -- Alicia Mundy, author of Crystal Mesh: How Addiction to Money Turned Medical Device Makers, the FDA, and Doctors into Street Dealers
" Fat Chance is the story of the fen-phen litigation and the prominent lawyers who, blinded by greed and hubris, lied to their clients and the judge, cheated their partners, and tried to keep their clients' money. Rick Christman's book is a well-written and remarkably complete account of fen-phen: the development and marketing of the drugs, the litigation that resulted from side effects, and the generous settlement that led lawyers to unethical and illegal behavior." -- W. H. Fortune, professor of law at the University of Kentucky
"If the civil justice system had been healthy, transparent, and well-policed, it might not have been highjacked, as it was in this case. Everyone should read this book. As Mark Twain said in his book The Gilded Age, 'citizens as a body [must] keep religiously before their minds that they are the guardians of the law and that the law officers are only machinery for its execution, nothing more.'" -- Richard H. Underwood, author of CrimeSong: True Crime Stories from Southern Murder Ballads and professor of law at the University of Kentucky
"In this well-told tale of perfidy, heroes are few and hard to find. The villains are lawyers, judges, political figures, bureaucrats, drug companies, and medical journals, swirling in an existential problem of modern humanity -- we eat too much -- and our eternal search for easy answers to difficult questions, often answered by controlled substances. This scam was the precursor of the opioid epidemic that still ravages Kentucky and rural America." -- Al Cross, professor of journalism and director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky