Ronald L. Motley was someone good to have on your side. In the courtroom, his high energy, extensive preparation and legendary litigation skills won substantial financial awards for thousands of clients.
Outside of the courtroom, the North Charleston native was known for being generous with the wealth he earned as a class-action lawyer.
Over the course of his legal career, he took on large, complicated cases that many thought didn’t have a chance — and he won.
His hard work earned him a personal fortune, and also the reputation as “one of the most influential lawyers in America,” as described by The National Law Journal.
Early in his career, he represented about 200,000 people against companies where his clients had been exposed to asbestos. He honed the practice of class-action suits. In addition to winning compensation for his clients, he is credited with causing the construction industry as a whole to eliminate asbestos.
Later, he sued tobacco companies on behalf of states saddled with public health costs because of smoking. In 1998, thanks in large part to the efforts of Mr. Motley and others at his Mount Pleasant law firm, the companies agreed to pay states more than $246 billion over 25 years — the largest civil settlement in U.S. history.
His trial work won recognition in “The Insider,” a 1999 movie about a tobacco company whistle-blower. It starred Russell Crowe and Al Pacino. Mr. Motley was played by Bruce McGill.
Ron Motley, who died Thursday, built one of the nation’s leading trial firms by taking on difficult cases, working hard and winning.
He will be missed by the legal community and the larger community, with which he shared his wealth.