COLUMBIA (AP) — Celebrated South Carolina lawyer Ron Motley has died at the age of 68, law partner Joe Rice confirmed Thursday.
No cause of death was given for the trial lawyer, and funeral arrangements have not been announced.
Motley served as lead counsel in lawsuits that ultimately yielded the largest civil settlement in U.S. history in which the tobacco industry agreed to reimburse states for smoking-related health care costs.
As part of the Ness Motley firm, he also sued on behalf of asbestos victims and the families of the Sept. 11 victims.
Motley’s practice underwent a transformation in 2003, when he and Rice officially formed the Motley Rice firm. The Mount Pleasant-based practice is one of the largest plaintiffs’ firms in the country. The name change was partly because 13 attorneys and about 40 support staff left to form a new firm, Richardson Patrick Westbrook & Brinkman, in 2002.
The family of deceased South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Julius “Bubba” Ness also sued the firm, saying the Ness portion of the name should be dropped since the practice was no longer connected to the family. Ness’ son-in-law, Terry Richardson, was among the lawyers who left to form the new firm.
On Thursday, Richardson remembered Motley — with whom he practiced for nearly 30 years — as a tenacious attorney who was a major figure in a time when plaintiffs’ law experienced a renaissance.
“All lawyers start out believing you can change the world. Few of us ever do. But Ron is one that did,” Richardson said. “If there was no crisis at the moment, he would always create one.”
Motley received numerous accolades, including highest honors from the South Carolina Association for Justice and the American Association for Justice. He also was a member of The Trial Lawyer 2012 Hall of Fame.
He was known for his flair, both inside and outside the courtroom. In 2009, the taxes on his $15 million yacht, Themis, were $395,000 — more than the combined taxes for some 10,500 other boats registered in Charleston County.
Ken Suggs, a past president of both the South Carolina and national plaintiffs’ lawyers groups, called Motley one of the most diligent and hardest-working attorneys in the state. Suggs also noted that Motley was willing to go after obvious evils but will be remembered most for his work in going up against the tobacco and asbestos companies.
“In both of those cases, he faced people on the other side, industries that were truly evil and were willing to go to almost any lengths to cover up the harm they were causing,” Suggs said. “Ron was the guy who saw these products … that were accepted in the industry and society, but saw the harm there and did something that people weren’t, in the beginning, willing to do.”