The Good Fight
Led by Stephen A. Sheller, the law firm of Sheller P.C. fights to “bring equality where there is none”
by Bill Donahue

Stephen A. Sheller grew up in New York, in an integrated neighborhood of Irish, Italian and Jewish kids—all of them faithful fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He remembers when the Dodgers won the World Series in 1955, which brought the neighborhood together in shared elation. Two years later the Dodgers left for Los Angeles, and everything changed.

“That was when I realized how inequitable life can be,” he recalls. “I felt like nobody cared about us kids and what we wanted.” 

The experience was the first of many that instilled Sheller with the desire to pursue social justice. It also laid the foundation for what would become a remarkable legal career spanning 50 years and counting. In that time, Sheller has fought, both in and out of the courtroom, for the rights of clients who have suffered injuries caused by the negligence, recklessness or wrongful conduct of others. From consumer protections in landmark cases against Big Pharma and Big Tobacco to voter rights in the aftermath of the 2000 Bush v. Gore election, Sheller has had a hand in them all.

“I’m always focusing on what needs to be done to address certain inequalities and what we can accomplish to make things right,” says Sheller, who recently was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Legal Intelligencer. “I see it as our obligation to bring equality where there is none. I think we need to provide an example for others to follow.”

As founding partner of the prominent Philadelphia-based law firm Sheller P.C., Sheller and his fellow attorneys have done some of their most meaningful work in cases involving defective products, unfair business practices and corporate wrongdoing, among other areas. Since its founding in 1977, the firm has become a nationally recognized leader in mass tort and other consumer-advocacy litigation.

In particular, Sheller P.C. has represented pharmaceutical whistleblowers in cases that rank among the top civil and criminal settlements in U.S. history. In all, Sheller P.C. has recovered more than $6.4 billion for the U.S. government and taxpayers, including a $7.3 million whistleblower settlement with Astellas Pharma in 2014; a $60 million settlement with Shire Pharmaceuticals, also in 2014; a $2.2 billion settlement against Johnson & Johnson in 2013; a $520 million settlement against AstraZeneca in 2010; a $2.3 billion settlement against Pfizer Inc. in 2009; and a $1.4 billion settlement with Eli Lilly & Co., also in 2009.

Some of the firm’s most publicized successes involve cases regarding the “off label” marketing and misuse of popular drugs. This includes cases in which the makers of the antipsychotic drug Risperdal and its generic counterpart, risperidone, had marketed to children and the elderly for purposes the drug was not intended, tested or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Sheller P.C. recently announced its co-counsel agreement in the representation of more than 8,000 plaintiffs with Arnold & Itkin LLP of Houston, Texas, and another Philadelphia powerhouse plaintiffs’ firm, Kline & Specter, in litigation against a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary in cases involving Risperdal, which has been linked to gynecomastia—abnormal breast growth in young males. Sheller pioneered the litigation and subsequently partnered in trying the Risperdal cases with Kline & Specter. Shortly after announcing the agreement, brothers Jason Itkin and Cory Itkin obtained a $1.75 million verdict in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court against Janssen Pharmaceuticals for an autistic Maryland boy who started using Risperdal in 2003. That trial featured, among other things, key testimony elicited by Tom Kline and combined courtroom efforts of the Itkin brothers.

In the first Philadelphia Risperdal trial to go to a verdict, Kline, along with Chris Gomez of the Sheller firm, last February obtained a $2.5 million verdict for Austin Pledger, another autistic boy who took Risperdal and developed gynecomastia. No other firm in the country has tried a Risperdal gynecomastia case to verdict. An additional 10 cases are scheduled to be tried by the three firms next year.

Another case involving a young man with Tourette’s syndrome is currently being tried by Kline and Gomez in Philadelphia. Sheller’s pursuit to expose the misconduct of Risperdal maker Johnson & Johnson in the case was detailed in a recent in-depth story authored by journalist Steven Brill for Highline, an imprint of the Huffington Post.
‘Doing the Most Good’
Sheller P.C.’s scope and success are notable, especially considering the firm’s relatively diminutive size—fewer than a dozen attorneys. That having been said, the firm is in growth mode, in terms of its size and its reach.

“It’s a vibrant and exciting time for the firm,” says Marc A. Goldich, who joined Sheller P.C. in March to help manage the firm’s practice.  “Steve is someone who has elasticity of thinking; he’s not limited to the normal contours of thought regarding law and corporate responsibility and civic responsibility. Over the last few years, the firm has had wild success in whistleblower cases and mass torts. We’re still heavily focused in those two areas, but we have expanded our class action, medical malpractice and personal injury practices.”

For example, Sheller P.C. was one of the first firms in the nation to file a class action suit involving the May 2015 “Fight of the Century” between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao. Filed in the aftermath of the highly publicized fight, the suit alleges that the boxers, their promoters and the cable networks airing the match misled viewers because Pacquiao had an undisclosed injury—a torn rotator cuff—that hampered his ability to fight, thereby making the match unfair and dishonest.

“This goes back to the whole problem in society of certain people trying to get away with something,” says Sheller. “There was no sense of responsibility and decency. HBO made a ton of money, and so did each of the boxers. … Meanwhile, the people who paid good money to see a good fight didn’t get what they paid for.”

The firm’s growth is particularly invigorating to Jamie L. Sheller and Lauren A. Sheller, the founder’s two daughters. Jamie, who has been in practice more than 17 years, focuses her practice in medical device and drug product liability, class action litigation and personal injury cases. Lauren, who joined the firm in 2014 after working as an associate with Duane Morris LLP, has experience representing clients involving class actions, complex mass torts and personal injury cases.

“There is an underlying theme to all the cases we undertake,” says Lauren Sheller, who studied at Rhode Island School of Design before earning her juris doctor from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. “Each case is rooted in Steve’s philosophy of doing the most good wherever we can. We’re also not afraid to take on the cases other firms might want to stay away from.

“After watching my father and my sister Jamie, I found there are many ways you can put your creativity to good use in the field of law,” she continues. “You have to find a solution to a problem, and sometimes you find that answer by looking outside the box. Working here has enabled me to be a creative thinker more so than I ever would have imagined.”
Forward Thinking

In addition to fighting for clients, Sheller P.C. is heavily involved in public service. The firm’s attorneys support causes to improve the well-being of local communities by lifting up organizations devoted to health, education and the culture of the underserved. Rather than pro bono work, Stephen Sheller refers to such off-hours support as “doing what we should be doing.” 

For more than 30 years, he and his wife, Sandra, have been civically, educationally and philanthropically active in the Greater Philadelphia Area and beyond. The most visible example may be the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University. Made possible by a $1.5 million donation from the Sheller Family Foundation, the center was created in 2013 to help aspiring lawyers and social service professionals by providing a place for them to adopt projects designed to effect change for groups that have been disadvantaged by poverty and discrimination.

Another example is the Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services of Drexel University. Here, adults, children and families in one of the most underserved areas of Philadelphia gain access to comprehensive health services—primary care, behavioral health, dental services and wellness programs, including yoga and art therapy. The facility, which recorded more than 32,000 patient visits in 2014, has been recognized as a national model of innovative community-based care.

“When it comes down to it, Steve has built a firm that continues to pave the way for justice and equality,” says Goldich, who spent most of his career as a corporate defense attorney with Reed Smith LLP. “We’re pursuing a very bright future in terms of the work we’re doing on behalf of those who have been harmed as a result of the negligence or wrongful conduct of corporations. We are on the precipice of exciting times here.”

Sheller P.C.
1528 Walnut Street, 4th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19102
800-883-2299 | 215-790-7300

Photograph by Jeff Anderson