Stanley Chesley has been called many things in his 40-year career as one of Cincinnati's (and the nation's) top class-action lawyers. Hard working. Tenacious. Bullying. Oppor-tunistic. Formidable. Rich. Generous. Pioneer.

His name has been linked with some of the largest class-action settlements and legal issues in the annals of law: U.S. soldiers exposed to the chemical Agent Orange, women sickened by silicone breast implants, patients damaged by Fen-Phen diet aids, workers exposed to radiation at the Fernald uranium enrichment site, dying cigarette smokers, and disgruntled shareholders.

So well known is he, in fact, that his alma mater, Cincinnati's prestigious college-preparatory Walnut Hills High School, sells a Stan Chesley "Champion of the Underdog" action figure.

But Chesley, whose 68-year-old frame is marked by white hair and slightly slumped shoulders, still considers himself an average guy who worked through law school by selling shoes at the old Shillito's downtown department store. He just happened to be poised to follow the law where it took him in 1977, when the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Northern Kentucky burned to the ground, killing 165 patrons.

Appalled that shoddy electrical wiring and the fumes released by burning upholstery and carpeting could kill innocent people, he sued "” not just the club, but entire industries "” and won. And by doing so, he carved out a legal niche called "enterprise liability," based on the concept that an entire industry can be held financially liable for deficient products, drugs, devices, or strategies.

He is the president of a 20-member downtown Cincinnati law firm, Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley, which he estimates has recouped nearly $7 billion for clients since the late 1970s. In 2004, he and his wife, U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott, bought what is thought to be the most expensive private home in Greater Cincinnati, a sprawling 27,000-square-foot, $8 million Indian Hill mansion.

Chesley knows critics like to take potshots at big-time, highly paid lawyers whose fees are based on the settlements they negotiate. He's been called greedy, manipulative, "The Master of Disaster" "” and worse.

"What critics fail to mention," Chesley points out, "is that in any personal injury case or class-action suit, there are two sets of trial lawyers "” one presenting the plaintiff, and one representing the defendant. The defendants' lawyers, those representing corporations and big insurance companies, have no qualms charging $500 to $750 an hour for their services, but they continually attack personal injury or class-action lawyers who represent people who have been injured or feel they have a legitimate claim."