Colo. Victim's Family Weighs Lawsuit
By David Segal
As the Columbine shooting victims are mourned at funerals, attorneys are calling relatives of the deceased in a search for potential clients, and at least one family is signaling that it intends to sue.
The parents of Isaiah Shoels, the only African American killed in the Colorado high school shootings last week, have held a preliminary discussion with Geoffrey Fieger, a Michigan attorney best known for successfully defending assisted suicide proponent Jack Kevorkian.
Sam Riddle, a spokesman for the family, said yesterday that the Shoelses were considering lawsuits targeting the parents of the killers, the school and "other government entities." The litigation likely would assert that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had made their murderous intentions clear through a series of racist comments before the attack.
A final decision about whether to litigate will not be made until after today's funeral for Isaiah Shoels.
Although Colorado law prohibits attorneys from soliciting clients within 30 days of an injury, some out-of-state lawyers are now making inquiring phone calls to the families of victims, according to Marc Kaplan, president of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association.
"Some attorneys apparently think they're not covered by the Colorado law," Kaplan said. "I think they're wrong about that."
The case being contemplated by the Shoels family might allege failings by high school officials. Both Isaiah and his sister, Michelle, were subject to repeated racial taunts by the two killers, according to Riddle, who said that should have tipped off Columbine authorities.
"We feel that given the nature of the taunts, the school had a duty to exercise more caution," said Riddle, a management and campaign consultant who now works for the Colorado secretary of state. "The types of epithets hurled at . . . these children should never be tolerated."
Riddle last year was a campaign consultant to Fieger's unsuccessful bid for governor of Michigan. Calls to Fieger's office in Southfield, Mich., were not returned yesterday. His secretary said he was in court, leading the plaintiffs' case in a widely watched, $50 million lawsuit against the "Jenny Jones" syndicated television show.
A flamboyant and often controversial attorney, Fieger first gained prominence by fending off criminal allegations against Kevorkian, the retired pathologist who has said he has helped more than 100 people commit suicide. When Kevorkian was convicted recently of second-degree murder, he was representing himself.
During his gubernatorial campaign, Fieger failed to catch on with voters but he relentlessly ridiculed his Republican rival, incumbent John Engler. Fieger called Engler "the result of miscegenation between humans and barnyard animals" and described him as "dumber than Dan Quayle and twice as ugly."
Although his campaign flopped, Fieger is an accomplished personal injury lawyer with expertise in racially charged wrongful death suits. Last April, Fieger won a $13 million judgment from a federal jury for the family of Edward Swans, a mentally ill African American who died after a struggle with police in a Lansing, Mich., jail.
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