Leading light: New MAJ president known as consummate 'bridge builder'

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

A 1987 Syracuse University College of Law alum, Ron Weiner recently was sworn in as the new head of the Michigan Association for Justice, showing the same presidential moxie as Joseph R. Biden Jr., Syracuse Law 1968.

“I like to think that there are now ‘two presidents’ from Syracuse Law,” Weiner said with a smile.

A sense of humor figures to come in handy for Weiner as he embarks upon his year in office as president of the MAJ, a 1,300-member alliance of plaintiff attorneys bound together by their commitment to the civil justice system.

“We have an ongoing duty to preserve access to the courts for all citizens, safeguarding the rights of those who have been injured or somehow wronged by the action of others,” said Weiner, a partner at Lipton Law in Southfield. “The insurance lobby and other special interest groups are constantly trying to limit access to court and to cap damages, and we have to do our best to thwart those attempts.”

In addition to ensuring access to the courts, MAJ is also committed to protecting democracy and access to the ballot. One example, said Weiner, is the continuing effort on the part of conservative groups to block a redistricting ballot initiative approved by state voters in 2018.

“The proposal was overwhelmingly approved and has withstood various legal challenges, but conservative groups continue to do everything they can to keep partisan gerrymandering in Michigan,” Weiner indicated. “We at the MAJ are just as committed to see that the redistricting reforms are enacted as the voters wished.”

Weiner’s tenacity has been developed over a 34-year career in the law that has included stints as an assistant county prosecutor, an insurance defense lawyer, and most notably as a plaintiff’s attorney handling medical malpractice cases, automobile/no-fault claims, nursing home neglect, and other personal injury matters.

“I don’t have a multi-million-dollar verdict with front page press, but I consider myself a journeyman trial attorney who has had a wide range of experiences,” Weiner said with more than a touch of modesty.

Judy Susskind, a past president of the MAJ, said that Weiner is widely respected as a “bridge-builder” and is someone who has earned the trust of friend and foe alike.

“Ron has never been one to seek the spotlight, preferring instead to work hard behind the scenes to bring about positive change,” said Susskind, a partner with Sommers Schwartz in Southfield. “He is such a genuine and caring person who is always looking out for others, and seeks cooperation and collaboration whenever he can. His willingness to bring everyone to the table and to listen to their views are just some of the reasons he is so admired and effective.”

Those comments were echoed by another past president of the MAJ, Debra Freid, managing partner of Freid Gallagher Taylor & Associates in Saginaw.

“Ron is the kind of attorney who is diligent and effective for his clients, yet very forthright with opposing counsel while still maintaining civility and a congenial relationship throughout a given case,” said Freid, a personal injury and employment law attorney for the past 35 years. “He is no pushover, however, and always has his client’s interests uppermost in mind.”

Freid said that Weiner deserves special credit for helping preserve statute of limitation rights for plaintiffs while courts were closed during the pandemic.

“There was a real worry about the ability to file cases when the courts were shut down, and Ron helped find a path forward so that the statute of limitations didn’t negatively impact the situation,” Freid indicated.
A product of Berkley High School and Cranbrook, Weiner earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Michigan in 1983, graduating a semester early after earning spring term credits.
This included seven weeks reading Thoreau and Frost, and mountain hiking with U-M’s New England Literature Program (NELP). As a personal reward for taking the accelerated route to graduation, Weiner treated himself to a three-month European journey, seeing the sights of the continent while backpacking and skiing.

“I made friends every day from different countries and cultures, and it was an experience that I will always treasure,” said Weiner.

After earning his law degree from Syracuse, Weiner spent three years as an assistant prosecutor in Macomb County, working under the guidance of Prosecuting Attorney Carl Marlinga.

“It was a great experience in the sense that I tried a boatload of felony and misdemeanor cases,” Weiner said. “It is probably the best way to develop your courtroom skills in a hurry.”

The office had several units dedicated to prosecuting certain types of crimes. As a newer prosecutor, Weiner tried many cases involving theft and retail fraud, prompting him to coin the term “BARF” unit, short for “Ban All Retail Fraud.”

Following his work at the Prosecutor’s Office, Weiner joined a defense firm handling mostly product liability cases, spending nearly three years there before making the move to the plaintiff’s side of the legal fence, first with Lakin Worsham & Victor and then with Zamler Mellen & Shiffman where he became a partner.

“I felt much more at home handling plaintiff’s cases, trying my best to help level the playing field for those who have been injured,” Weiner said.

It was during his 18-year stay with the Zamler firm that Weiner became involved with MAJ, then known as the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association. The first project he helped with was creating an accessible bank of expert witness depositions, volunteering his time to index and catalogue thousands of transcripts.

“It wasn’t exactly glamorous work, but it helped our members save time and expense in gathering expert testimony,” said Weiner, who joined the MAJ in 1996 and annually serves as the co-moderator of the organization’s Seminar in the Snow in Bellaire.

Weiner has served as treasurer, secretary, vice president, and president-elect of MAJ before beginning his tenure as president on June 1.

“MAJ is a unique organization,” Weiner said upon assuming his presidential duties. “Despite the industry’s constant competition for clients and sometimes opposing interests, our trial lawyers all want the best for one another. Our organization stands together in the face of adversity, and we come out stronger on the other side of it all. I am proud to work with the talented professionals that make up our organization.”

Attorney Michael Dolenga, the founding member of Dolenga & Dolenga in Farmington, has crossed legal swords with Weiner in a number of medical malpractice cases over the past 20 years and has the highest regard for his skill and demeanor.

“Ron has been a great adversary and is an equally great advocate for his clients,” said Dolenga. “He has a sense of when to fight tooth and nail over something and when to compromise, which is a special skill of his that I’ve long admired.”

Over the past five years, Dolenga has gained an even greater appreciation for that talent while serving as a mediator, facilitator, or arbitrator in cases handled by Weiner.

“He is always well prepared and does an exceptionally good job in presenting his case, invariably achieving good results for his clients,” Dolenga said of Weiner. 

In addition to his busy practice at Lipton Law and his work on behalf of MAJ, Weiner was recently inducted as a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) and also serves as a hearing panelist for the Attorney Discipline Board.

For good measure, Weiner is a board member and past president for Gilda’s Club of Metro Detroit. The nonprofit is named in honor of comedienne Gilda Radner, a Detroit native who succumbed to ovarian cancer in 1989.

“This wonderful organization provides free programs, therapy, group sessions, and nutrition counseling to those afflicted with cancer and their families,” said Weiner. “My mother Phyllis died from cancer when I was one. At that time cancer was a hushed word. I wish that she had the benefit of Gilda’s programs then and wouldn’t have had to face her terminal diagnosis on her own. Gilda’s motto is ‘so no one faces cancer alone.’ I’m proud to be involved in this great mission.”



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