As many in metro Detroit might have expected, the first multimillion-dollar lawsuit to come from the horrific Oxford High School shootings that killed four teens was filed by attorney Geoffrey Fieger.
The senior partner at the law firm of Fieger, Fieger, Kenney & Harrington in Southfield, Fieger is looked at with awe and disdain as a high-profile defense and plaintiff’s attorney who has dabbled in politics.
He has made a name for himself by taking on high-dollar lawsuits.
Fieger, who is almost 71, filed a federal lawsuit for $100 million on behalf of two Oxford High students — Riley Franz, 17, who was shot in the neck, and her 14-year-old sister, Bella — claiming school officials did not do enough to protect them.
He blasted the Oxford School District, accusing it of allowing a “deranged, homicidal student to return to class with a gun in his backpack, with over 30 rounds of ammo in his backpack, when they knew he was a homicidal threat.”
Fieger has successfully defended assisted suicide Dr. Jack Kevorkian and unsuccessfully run for governor. He boasts he has won more than 165 verdicts and settlements of $1 million or more.
Among his lawsuits: one in 1999 that accused the parents of Columbine High School gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris of failing to supervise their children, arguing that the lawsuit was about duty, accountability, and responsibility.
In that case, he represented Michael and Vonda Shoels, whose 18-year-old son, Isaiah, was killed. The lawsuit didn’t mention a damage figure, but at the time Fieger said his clients were seeking up to $250 million.
‘We fight and win’
Fieger is so well known for filing big-dollar lawsuits and settlements that anytime someone is wronged, folks in metro Detroit often remark — sometimes in jest — they should call him.
And that’s exactly what he wants. His number: 1-800-A-WINNER.
In his bombastic TV commercials, Fieger pledges to take down powerful interests. He presents himself as “America’s Trial Lawyer,” and “The Peoples’ Champion.” He uses hyperbolic and sometimes even vulgar language.
Still, to some, Fieger really is a crusader for justice, especially for folks who feel they have no other way to get it but with a lawsuit.
Earlier this week, Fieger filed another high-profile lawsuit, this one for $50 million against Consumers Energy in an explosion in Flint that killed two people and damaged multiple homes.
In 2020, he filed another $50 million lawsuit against Southfield paramedics after a woman was falsely declared dead, and a $100 million lawsuit against a Michigan group home as a result of a suffocation death of a teenager.
He filed a $100-million lawsuit in 2016 against McLaren Flint Hospital and the State of Michigan, saying they did nothing to combat an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that killed at least one person during the Flint water crisis.
“When you’ve been injured, we fight and win for you,” his website declares, adding that his firm is “a powerful representative on behalf of those who have been injured due to the neglect and recklessness of another.”
Running for office
Fieger grew up in Oak Park, the oldest of three.
He earned degrees in theater and communication from the University of Michigan, and then followed in the footsteps of his Harvard-educated father, Bernie, and also became an attorney. His mom, June, was a teacher and union organizer.
In 1979, Geoffrey Fieger graduated from the Detroit College of Law, now the Michigan State University College of Law.
His brother, Doug Fieger, became a rock star and died in 2010. His best-known hit was “My Sharona.” His younger sister, Beth Falkenstein, became a TV sitcom writer for shows like “Mad About You.”
Fieger garnered international attention representing the infamous assisted suicide doctor, acting as the pathologist’s attorney, spokesperson, and, in some ways, his publicist.
Each time Kevorkian assisted in a death, Fieger called a news conference.
He also appeared on national TV talk shows and made a case for “the right to die.”
With Fieger as his lawyer, Kevorkian was acquitted.
However, in 1999, when Kevorkian represented himself, the doctor lost and was convicted of second-degree murder for administering a lethal injection to a terminally ill patient.
The cases Fieger won fashioned an image that made him out to be a champion of the underdog. And that helped give him the profile and a platform to run in 1998 against then-Gov. John Engler.
Fieger put nearly $6 million of his own money into the campaign.
But he lost, 62%-38%.
And his colorful attacks on Engler prompted complaints to the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, which noted: “his childish, scorched earth tactics served no one well.”
But it cemented his reputation as a street fighter.
Nearly two decades later, Fieger flirted with public office again.
During a televised appearance in 2017, he said he was seriously considering another run for governor in 2018, and perhaps the presidency in 2020, noting what he said was “an absence of leadership in Michigan for so many years.”
Life in the spotlight
Fieger has been involved with many other high-profile and controversial cases. In one, he was even the defendant, accused by the federal government of making illegal campaign contributions.
Fieger represented the family of Scott Amedure in a 1999 wrongful death and negligence suit against “The Jenny Jones Show,” syndicated daytime tabloid talk show hosted by comedian/actress/singer Jenny Jones.
He also made international headlines that year when defended Nathaniel Abraham, who was arrested at age 11 on a murder count and charged as an adult. Abraham was convicted of second-degree murder, but sentenced as a juvenile.
In 2007, however, Fieger was on trial.
The government said he and his long-time law partner and friend Ven Johnson illegally bundled $127,000 in campaign funds for 2004-presidential candidate John Edwards.
Fieger was acquitted.
But by one account, the federal charges likely created a deep rift between him and Johnson that turned into a messy split, punctuated with angry words, and multimillion-dollar lawsuits against each other.
In 2014, the two former partners settled their lawsuits, but not their differences.
Four years later, Fieger locked horns with another attorney, this time rival Michael Morse. The bitter competitors operate law Southfield law firms less than a mile apart from each other.
Oakland County Circuit Judge Phyllis McMillen dismissed a sexual assault lawsuit against Morse, another well-known plaintiff’s attorney, ruling that his accuser, Renee Swain, committed perjury.
Fieger represented Swain.
Morse’s lawyers later said that the suit was a chance for Fieger to attack him.
On Thursday, Fieger was back in the spotlight — where he often is and seems comfortable — in front of news cameras, taking questions, and throwing out the sound bites that he knows reporters crave and will help clients’ case.
Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or [email protected] Free Press archives contributed.