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March 17, 1994 - Image 9

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1994-03-17

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

no

ie

love

song

of

Ai
Accusatory, indignant and

"right, "Jack Kevorkian's
attorney pens himself into
history
By DARCY LOCKMAN

id - after no o n
Friday and a
W e s t
Bloomfield
reporter is on
the phone to attorney Geoffrey Nels
Fieger. Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Fieger's
client and friend for the last four years,
* has just moved to the west-side Detroit
suburb, and, according to the Detroit
Free Press, the neighbors are wary.
"What? What?" says Fieger,
indignant, into the phone. "The
newspaper article said what?" He
listens. "I'll tell you what, I'll get
Jack on the phone."
Fieger puts the reporter on hold
and dials the man best known to the
public as Dr. Death. "Jack, I've got a
reporter on the line. I'm going to put
him on. He's going to ask you how,
you like your new place and you're
going to answer him."
He switches back to the reporter.
"Pat, I've got Jack on the phone. I'm
going to put him on and you can ask
him how he likes living in West
Bloomfield."
He connects the two men with
conference call and listens closely -
making sure the reporter asks no
additional questions, that Jack
volunteers no additional information.
Jack does as directed. The reporter
does as directed. Fieger listens. He
thanks Jack. He thanks Pat. He hangs
up. He shakes his head, dismayed at
the stupidity of, of everyone.
"For a newspaper to insinuate that
an 87-year-old woman is afraid to
live near Kevorkian is an outrage, and
if she really said it she ought to be
ashamed of herself.".
If she really said it. Fieger does not
take much stock in the press.
"(Dr. Kevorkian is) a kind, very
intelligent, very brave physician who
has been incredibly misportrayed and
viciously caricaturized by certain
elements in the media because they
wish to impose their own moral or
ethical beliefs on the rest of us. To
portray him as some kind of ghoulish
man obsessed with death - it's a
lie," says the Detroit College of Law
alumnus from behind the crowded
desk in his Southfield office.

decisions). One of the cases in Wayne
has been dismissed; the only
remaining case will be tried in
Recorder's Court in mid-April - un-
less the state Court of Appeals over-
turns the law before then.
But it's not the right to die that's
being debated here. "What we're
talking about is the right not to suffer,"
explains Fieger.
That's what the issue is about for
him, and he supports it as diligently as
he supports his client. It is the same
right not to suffer that convinced Jack
Kevorkian to invent his assisted
suicide machine in 1989. Kevorkian
allegedly first used the machine to
assist Alzheimer's victim Janet
Adkins in June of 1990. Originally
determined to act as his own counsel,
he did not call Fieger until August of
the same year. "I don't think I know
what I am doing," Kevorkian said the
first time he spoke to his soon-to-be
lawyer.
Fieger, already a nationally-known
malpractice attorney (in 1982, just
three years out of law school, he won
the first million-dollar judgment in
the nation involving misuse of anti-
psychotic drugs), agreed to take the
case. Today, the client and lawyer are
writing medical history: Kevorkian
as the doctor - Fieger as the lawyer,
public relations director and general
spokesperson.
Spokesperson is the significant
position here. Over the last four years,
Fieger has virtually become Dr.
Kevorkian's mouthpiece, and not only
in the courtroom. Fieger's on the
news; he's in the papers; he's even
writing for Penthouse. Reporters don't
call Kevorkian - they talk to his
attorney. And Geoffrey Fieger is
giving them a lot to talk about.
Tall with unkempt blondish hair,
feisty blue eyes and traces of a devel-
oping paunch, the 43-year-old, happily
married atheist has oft been criticized
for his public behavior. Here are a few
reasons why: Fieger has labeled former
Oakland County Circuit Judge Alice
Gilbert a "vile, malignant, legal luna-
tic;" he has pinned a clown nose on a
portrait of Oakland County Prosecutor
Richard Thompson; hehascalled Gov-

ANISTASIA BANICKI/DAILY

enhances, not disgraces, the public's
perception of his profession ("I think
the public perception of me is 'hey,
there's someone who really defends
his client, who really stands up"'). He
sees nothing wrong with his propensity
toward name-calling ("'Cause I'm
right"). Neither does he express fear
that insertion of his flagrant personal-
ity might detract from either client or
cause.
"Did I do something wrong?" he
asks rhetorically, loudly. "Did I not
defend him right? Was he not charged
with first degree murder three times?
Have I gotten him off? What do people
want? Would they have wanted me to
be some squirrel-y guy and let him get
charged?
"If I was standing up there like a
jackass and saying things that weren't
true ... One of the ways you can judge
the rightness of my position is the fact
that I do say these things, and nobody
will go after me. If you tell the truth -
if the judge is a crook, or the judge is
a jackass, or he's a fool - nobody's
going to stop you from telling the
truth in this country are they?"
But with all due respect Mr. Fieger,
"jackass" is a matter of opinion, such
things can't really be called truths.
"Oh yes they can. (My harsh words
don't worry me) 'Cause I'm right."
"Right" is a critical word in the
Geoffrey Fieger vocabulary, and is
often no more than a black and white
issue. "Some things are empirically
right," he says, "The right of people to

lutely right."
Many disagree. Some religious
groups disagree. Fieger calls them
lunatics, fanatics. ("When these
people inevitably step over the line
and say, 'I want to decide for you
because I know better than you do
about your own self,' that is
fanatical.") Oakland County
Prosecutor Richard Thompson
disagrees. Fieger calls him a fascist, a
Nazi. ("Yeah, you're damn right I
called Thompson a Nazi. 'Cause he
fuckin' is!")
Right wing religious groups and
Thompson hold no fan club meetings
for Fieger either. Thompson has taken
legal measures to stop him and his
client, going as far as to try to indict
Fieger and Kevorkian's sister Margo
Janus ("That's how evil this guy is.
It's the typical totalitarian to go after
not only the infidel, but his entire
family. What did he want to get me
for? I don't know. Conspiracy.
Conspiracy to commit a legal act,"
Fieger rolls his eyes).
The battle for Kevorkian and his
suicide machine has been grueling;
but don't let Fieger tell you he hasn't
loved every minute of it. Fighting's in
the family really - father Bernie
Fieger, who died in 1988, was a
Harvard-educated lawyer who went
to Mississippi to help fight for civil
rights when doing so was dangerous;
mother June Fieger worked as a
teachers' union organizer for more
than 20 years - so the eldest son's

hit song "My Sharona"). Little sister
Beth Falkenstein is a writer for the
NBC sitcom "Mad About You."
Geoffrey himself earned a bachelor's
in drama in 1974 and a master's in
theater in 1976, both from the
University of Michigan. A product of
his schooling, Fieger comes off as,
well, theatrical. The pitch of his voice
rises as he moves into impassioned
soliloquy. His tone drops from roar to
whisper for dramatic effect. Still, he
doesn't take much stock in courtroom
theatrics.
"No one can go into court and be
an effective trial lawyer and be an
actor. When I became a better lawyer
was when I recognized that the best
person I could possibly be in the
courtroom is Geoff Fieger. The best
way I can serve my clients is to be
Geoff Fieger."
The attention he calls to himself
by just "being Geoff Fieger" suggests
political aspiration, but Fieger says
no way, "I can't take the pay cut." As
for being a judge: "Maybe if I get a lot
older and a lot more calm. I don't
have a judicial temperament. The only
kind of judge I'd really want to be
would be a supreme court judge. A
United States Supreme Court judge,
where I could really exercise my
intellectual prowess."
Then how about a return to acting?
Fieger receives offers to sell his story
to television "all the time," but has so
far refused them. "We've talked about
who would play us. We've thought

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