Jon Campisi Feb. 19, 2013, 8:11am

A Philadelphia law school has received a hefty monetary gift from a local plaintiffs’

lawyer who has had a successful career representing clients engaged in mass tort litigation.

Temple University Beasley School of Law announced late last week that attorney Stephen Sheller, of the firm Sheller P.C., and his wife Sandra Sheller have donated $1.5 million to the institution to be used toward the establishment of the Stephen and Sandra Sheller Center for Social Justice.

Some of Sheller's fortune came in 2010 when his firm secured a $520 million settlement against drug manufacturer AstraZeneca in whistleblower litigation that was playing out at the federal court in Philadelphia.

The lawsuits accused the company of engaging in illegal tactics, including kickbacks to doctors, to promote off-label uses for the anti-psychotic drug Seroquel.

That settlement was reportedly the largest amount ever paid by a company in a civil-only settlement of off-label marketing allegations.

The new center for justice, according to the law school, will partner with nonprofit organizations and city agencies to identify and address urgent social justice needs within Philadelphia and the surrounding region.

The center is poised to open some time this spring in Temple University’s Howard Gittis Student Center, and will build on the college’s five-decade tradition of offering legal assistance to those in need while providing a hands-on learning experience for law school students, Temple stated in a Feb. 15 news release.

“The law school is always seeking creative solutions to address the ways in which our society falls short of the promise of justice for all,” Temple Law School Dean JoAnne Epps said in a statement released by the university. “The Stephen and Sandra Sheller Center for Social Justice will help us do just that. This gift is a recognition of the historic mission of Temple and our abiding commitment to assist the community around us as we educate our students.”

Temple University’s campus is situated within the heart of North Philadelphia, an area besieged by crime and poverty.

In his own statement, Stephen Sheller said he views Temple as the perfect place for the social justice center.

“If we can affect the way justice happens, we can impact, on a large scale, a lot of lives for the better,” he said.

Sheller is recognized as a national litigator, focusing his practice on everything from civil rights, voter protection and employment discrimination to consumer fraud and protection and pharmaceutical litigation.

His wife, Sandra, on the other hand, has made a career out of working as an art and family therapist, according to Temple’s news release.

She has worked with families experiencing homelessness and those struggling with poverty, oppression and disenfranchisement.

The couple founded the Sheller Family Foundation in 2006 to “expand their commitment to improving lives,” Temple stated, and the foundation has since become a “vehicle to support institutions and programs that champion the causes of the underprivileged, underserved and marginalized; expose and remediate corrupt and unethical conduct; and effect significant, structural social change.”

“We talk a lot about freedoms that Americans have, and a lot of times, if you’re combatting poverty and oppression, you can’t really partake of those freedoms,” Sandra Sheller said in a statement. “So the whole idea is on a higher level to advocate for those people who don’t have a voice and maybe even empower them to advocate for themselves.”

Temple has stated that the new center, which will handle everything from civil liberties, environmental, consumer protection or disabilities rights issues, will also be a think tank where law students can work together with faculty and practicing attorneys to receive training in legal research, advocacy and policy development.

“I hope we will be a model for how a law school can both contribute to the education of their students and make meaningful change in the community,” Epps, the law school dean, said in a statement.

Recently, Sheller P.C. has been focusing on pharmaceutical mass tort litigation.

The firm’s website says it is also among the preeminent consumer and patient plaintiff and qui tam whistleblower law firms in the country, and for many decades has represented victims nationwide in litigation involving defective products, drugs and medical devices, medical malpractice, consumer fraud, unfair business practices, corporate wrongdoing and complex catastrophic personal injury cases.

A December 2012 profile story on Sheller in Philadelphia Life magazine said that the attorney is also known for his role in initiating the legal challenge over the “butterfly ballot” issues arising from the Bush v. Gore presidential election litigation back in 2000.

In that profile piece, Sheller told the magazine that he has always been drawn toward representing the “underdogs” in life.

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