Ronald L. Motley was born October 21, 1944, in Charleston, SC, to parents Woodrow W. Motley and Carrie Griffin Motley. He received his B.A. from the University of South Carolina in 1966 and his J.D. from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1971. While in law school, Motley was a member of the Wig & Robe honorary society and served on the editorial board of the South Carolina Law Review.
In 1973, Motley began practicing law as the assistant solicitor for the Eighth Judicial District until 1975, when he joined the firm of Blatt and Fales. In 1987, he became a partner with Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, P.A., which later became known as Ness, Motley, Loadholdt, Richardson & Poole, P.A. In 2003, he and Joseph F. Rice formed Motley Rice, LLC.
Noted for his role in spearheading the historic litigation against the tobacco industry, Motley served as lead trial counsel for 26 state attorneys general in the lawsuits. His efforts to uncover corporate and scientific wrongdoing resulted in the Master Settlement Agreement, the largest civil settlement in U.S. history and in which the tobacco industry agreed to reimburse states for smoking-related health care costs.
Through his pioneering discovery and collaboration, Motley revealed asbestos manufacturers and the harmful and disabling effects of occupational, environmental and household asbestos exposure. He represented thousands of asbestos victims and achieved numerous trial breakthroughs, including the class actions and mass consolidations of Cimino, et al. v. Raymark, et al. (U.S. D.C. TX); Abate, et al. v. ACandS, et al. (Baltimore); and In re Asbestos Personal Injury Cases (Mississippi).
In 2002, Motley once again advanced cutting-edge litigation as lead counsel for the 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism with a lawsuit filed by more than 6,500 family members, survivors and those who lost their lives in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The suit sought justice and ultimately bankruptcy for al Qaeda’s financiers, including many individuals, banks, corporations and charities that provided resources and monetary aid.
Motley was admitted to practice before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. He was active in various professional organizations and served in many capacities in the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and was a member of the American Association for Justice, Inner Circle of Advocates, International Academy of Trial Lawyers, S.C. Bar, S.C. Trial Lawyers Association and the New York Academy of Sciences. In 2002, Motley founded the Mark Elliott Motley Foundation in loving memory of his son to help meet the health, education and welfare needs of children and young adults in the Charleston, SC, community.
Motley was recognized as one of America’s most accomplished and skilled trial lawyers. In 1998, he received the President’s Award from the National Association of Attorneys General. The American Association for Justice named him the Harry M. Philo Trial Lawyer of the Year in 1998; presented him its David S. Shrager President’s Award in 2007; and awarded him with its highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2010. The S.C. Association for Justice recognized him with its Founders’ Award in 2013. Motely was recognized in the Best Lawyers Charleston, Best Lawyers of America and South Carolina Super Lawyers. He was an avid reader and authored or coauthorized more than two dozen publications and was featured in numerous articles, books and scripts.
Ronald L. Motley died on August 22, 2013. He is survived by his wife, Stephanie Poston Motley; daughter, Jennifer M. Lee (Carter); and grandchildren, Hutch Lee, Eliza Lee and Wilson Lee. He was preceded in death by his son, Mark E. Motley.