Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Mouthpiece Hall of Infamy: Geoffrey Fieger
In some ways Michigan trial lawyer Geoffrey Fieger is a hero of mine. He is a sometimes "cause" attorney and beyond-category trial lawyer, sometimes; Fieger is also the guy who, -- among all the shit he says, sometimes says: what needs to be said to those who need to have it said to them. He is a verbal flame-thrower. He is a royal pain in the ass. In other ways I'm totally repulsed by what he says and does, and more importantly how he says it. Fieger is most famous for representing Jack Kevorkian, and yet in legal circles he is probably best known as a spectacularly successful personal injury attorney who gets whacked by the legal authorities for outrageous courtroom conduct and language.
Fieger ran unsuccessfully as a democrat for Govenor of Michigan. Subsequently he and a law partner were criminally prosecuted for illegally funneling money to the John Edwars campaign. The great Gerry Spence represented Fieger and his law partner obtaining acquittals on all counts. Recently Fieger settled civil election law charges stemming from the same allegations by agreeing to pay fines of approximately $120,000.
Fieger's best momenst as a "cause" advocate has been his advocacy on behalf of children; although, I really do admire Fieger's success on behalf of Kevorkian. In all the criminal matters where Fieger represented Kevorkian, Kevorkain was acquitted. Kevorkian's conviction for manslaughter followed a trial where Kevorkian insisted on representing himself. Self-representation as I've noted before, is always a bad idea.
Fieger's problem, in my opinion, is that his courtroom advocacy skills frequently crossover into outrageous, sanctionable, and reversible error--thereby costing his clients. This is his Achilles' heel, he ends up screwing the client. Twice (that I know about, there may be other unreported examples) enormous verdicts: in Ohio a $30 million dollar jury verdict was vacated due to Fieger's discourtesy; and, alleged trial misconduct in Michigan resulted in the striking of a $15 million jury verdict by appellate courts. The focus in each case has been on Fieger's discourtesy and flagrant dissembling in court. Fieger has this tendency according to both Ohio and Michigan of mischaracterizing testimony given on the stand to frame follow up questions that contain grossly false and insulting material. In the Michigan case Fiegere claimed that the defendant doctor was screwing the nurse when he should have been taking care of the patient who had a bad medical outcome. The problem with this "inflammatory" claim was that it was not supported by a shred of evidence in the record--this at least according to the Michigan Supreme Court, whose opinion is attached via link at the bottom of this post. The Ohio Supreme Court justice who would have sustained some of the verdict for Fieger's client (that is a Justice who was sympathetic to the plaintiff) suggested that a future a trial court not permit pro hac vice admission (limited admission to practice law in a state where an attorney has not obtained licensure) of Fieger.
After the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the $15 million dollar award, Fieger who broadcasts legal commentary from his offices in Michigan, made remarks which were so over the top that in 2006 the Michigan Supreme Court publicly reprimanded him (the link to the Supremes Order is at the bottom of this post, the order itself and the personalities and narratives inherent in the order could support a treatise.)
There is very little doubt in my mind that the disciplinary authorities of most other states would have permanently disbarred Fieger based on quoted language detailed in the Michigan opinion the essence of Fiegere's remarks involved sticking objects up the rectums of the appellate court judges and doing various harm to them. These broadcast remarks coincided with a period in which the court case while no longer pending was in a "reconsideration" period meaning it "could" have gone back to the judges Fieger disparaged.
Fieger is arrogant, rude, obnoxious, abrasive, and according to the courts that have reversed him, a liar. On the other hand many of these same folks, the Judges who are the beneficiaries of the largesse of insurance companies, chambers of commerce, medical-industrial complex that Fieger is a sworn warrior intent upon opposing. Fieger is a deeply flawed, but important voice in the wilderness.
It is not a uncommon experience of mine that I've sit in the elegant, marbled mansions of the lucky ones, at the firms with silver service, payroll, and accounts payable departments where the hallways are lined with expensive bri-a-brac, antique furniture, Persian rugs--frequently you will see Hogarth prints. Which is an ironic thing to find in their offices, Hogarth's object of contempt being precisely these pompous asses. An example of Hogarth on the Justices:
Leaving aside the failure to of Fieger to his client's best interests, (and don't get me wrong, this is my criticism of Fieger), what Fieger is doing is not one whit of difference from what Hogarth did visually and what so many other flamethrowers of other generations have done is total exasperation with Judge Irishname, Judge Italianname, Justice Retardo, Judge AreThereNotPorrHouses, Judge Weirdname and so forth. A government of and by and for the people is . . . supposed to be FOR THE PEOPLE.
I've been reading Fieger's blog, and maybe I'm projecting, but I sense regret, anxiety, and questioning. While I disagree with a lot of his message, his manners, and his methods, I recognize Fieger to be at bottom a Bad Lawyer par excellence!
also, Geoffrey Fieger has a blawg: http://fiegertime.wordpress.com/
a website: http://www.fiegerlaw.com/about.php