One of the most memorable subjects of Netflix’s “Trial By Media” — a six-episode docuseries focusing on highly publicized trials — is lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, who sued “The Jenny Jones Show” after one of the show’s guests killed another following an episode about secret crushes.
"The Jenny Jones Show" began in 1991 as a traditional talk show where serious topics were discussed, but by 1993 it had turned to more salacious fare, mirroring shows like "Maury" and "The Jerry Springer Show." The show's segments ranged from paternity tests to out-of-control teens to secret crush reveals. “Jenny Jones” producers invited Michigan man Jonathan Schmitz onto an episode entitled “Same Sex Secret Crushes" in 1995, where his acquaintance Scott Amedure revealed his crush on him. He also explained in detail a sexual fantasy he had about Schmitz involving whipped cream and strawberries.
Three days later, Schmitz shot Amedure to death. While Schmitz was found guilty of second-degree murder, the show itself became the target of scrutiny for lighting “the fuse” that led to the killing, as Amedure’s brother Frank Amedure notes in the docuseries.
Frank Amedure told “Trial by Media” that in order to take on “The Jenny Jones Show” — which meant taking on Warner Bros. — he needed a “different” kind of lawyer. He sought out Geoffrey Fieger, who helped the Amedure family sue the media corporation in 1999 for his brother's wrongful death.
Fieger alleged that the show neglected to look into Schmitz’s past mental health and substance use issues before featuring him on the episode. As the docuseries shows, Fieger was a witty and ferocious storyteller in the courtroom who kicked off his litigation with a bold two-and-a-half hour opening statement. He later cross-examined Jenny Jones on the stand, pushing her to admit that the show didn't get permission for Schmitz to be the subject of a verbalized sexual fantasy on national television.
While Schmitz appeared to be a good sport about the sexual fantasy and the crush reveal during the taping — he was mostly smiling and laughing — he later admitted that he was deeply humiliated. At points, he covered his face with his hands; he also turned to Amedure and the female friend who brought him on the show and said “You lied to me.” As the docuseries points out, Schmitz's father had made multiple homophobic statements and Schmitz seemingly feared being perceived as gay. After Schmitz shot Amedure to death with a shotgun, he turned himself into police and admitted to killing Amedure because he'd been embarrassed on national television, the Associated Press reported in 2017. Because of the killing, the episode that featured Schmitz and Amedure never aired, though parts of it did run in news segments about the murder.
Fieger successfully convinced the jury that the program had acted irresponsibly and negligently. The Amedures were awarded close to $30 million but that judgment was later overturned by the Michigan Court of Appeals.
Despite the family never seeing any money from the case, Fieger told Oxygen.com that the trial did result in some changes. He said that following the verdict, talk shows like “The Jenny Jones Show” implemented psychological profiling when searching for guests. They also started to back away from such ambush-style methods of entertainment.
While the murder of Amedure caused a backlash against the show, it remained on air until 2003 when it was canceled due to low ratings.
Who is Fieger?
Fieger is the son of lawyer Bernard Julian Fieger, who founded Fieger Law more than 50 years ago. He was raised in a Detroit suburb with a brother and sister, both of whom grew up to have thriving careers in entertainment. His late brother Doug was the lead singer of “The Knack,” the band behind the hit “My Sharona.” His sister Beth Fieger Falkenstein became a television writer who worked on various shows, including the sitcom “Mad About You.”
Fieger told Oxygen.com that he initially didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“I certainly never wanted to be like my dad,” he said. “Nobody wants to be like their dad.”
Instead, he got his bachelor's and master's degrees in theater, but ultimately decided to go to law school. He said he ended up loving being a lawyer. His practice took on personal injury, civil rights and medical malpractice cases. He bought out billboards and televisions ads to promote his services. Detroit Free Press reporter Lori Brasier told the producers of “Trial by Media” that Fieger was a “showboat” who enjoyed local stardom in metro Detroit.
He also took up numerous criminal cases — which he said he does pro bono — and many of those were also high-profile. He represented Nathaniel Abraham, who was charged with the murder of an 18-year-old man in 1997 at age 11. Convicted at 13, Abraham is widely considered to be the youngest American convicted of murder. Fieger represented the family of Isaiah Shoels, who was killed in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. He also took on the case of Aiyana Jones, a 7-year-old girl fatally shot in 2010 during an errant police raid that was also being filmed by the television show “The First 48."
Brasier told the producers of “Trial By Media” that Fieger “takes on really high-profile cases, sometimes those that I think he knows he's going to lose but that keeps his name in the paper.”
Most notably, Fieger represented the infamous Dr. Jack Kevorkian, also dubbed "Dr. Death," during four of his trials over doctor-assisted suicide. He helped him win acquittals three times, with the fourth case resulting in a mistrial, according to Kevorkian's 2011 New York Times obituary. Kevorkian was ultimately convicted when he represented himself in his last assisted suicide trial in 1999.
“Nobody wanted to represent him,” Fieger told Oxygen.com. “He was arguing what I thought was a civil right: the right for people not to suffer at the end of their lives.”
While “Trial by Media” insinuates that Fieger loves being in the spotlight — Brasier pointed out that he was a drama major and James Feeney, the lead defense counsel for Warner Bros. in the Jenny Jones trial, said "he was a publicity hound" — Fieger denied that characterization.
“I kind of take that [“publicity hound” statement] as being a slightly negative comment that somehow I chased the media rather than them chasing me,” Fieger told Oxygen.com. “Because I was representing Jack Kevorkian for all those murder trials I was on television 25 to 50 times a day. I was well cut out to do it but I didn't seek it out. They [the media] were there, believe me.”
He insisted that he only takes on cases that “are righteous and meaningful” to him. He added that his knowledge of acting doesn’t mean it's a skill that translates in the courtroom.
“You can’t act in front of juries,” he said. “Juries smell that. If you are acting, if you are disingenuous, if you're not honest, they smell that. People think it’s about acting a part. It’s not.”
He said his drama degrees did help him examine himself so that he could effectively communicate with others, including jurors.
“I take every case and I paint a picture,” he says in the docuseries. “My art is the art of telling stories.”
Frank Amedure told the producers of “Trial by Media” that he felt Fieger is a "good man” who cares, but who also "comes off very gruff and arrogant.”
In addition to his law career, Fieger unsuccessfully ran as a Democratic nominee for governor of Michigan in 1998.
He argued if he had won he would have “fundamentally changed things,” including ending the practice of imprisoning non-violent drug offenders. He said he received criticism for that idea at the time but noted that it’s considered a respectable proposal now. During his candidacy, he got heat for not only his policy positions, but for his lack of politeness. He claimed his opponent was the product of humans and barnyard animals, The Michigan Review reported in 1998.
“I hate to even say my name with [President Donald] Trump but many of the things that I did back then, he is accused of doing now, like attacking others politically,” Fieger noted to Oxygen.com.
Where is Fieger now?
Fieger, now 69, is still working at Fieger Law. He told Oxygen.com he works 80 or more hours a week on average.
“I never don’t work but work doesn’t seem like work to me,” he said.
While he said he isn’t working any criminal cases at the moment, he is “handling big civil trials involving people who are hurt.”
As for litigation, he told Oxygen.com that since the 90s, he’s “gotten smarter and better.”
He credits his success mainly to his parents.
“I got lucky genes and then I did something with them,” he said. “A lot of people get smart genes but you have to get the opportunity to do something with them, so I got smart genes and then I guess I was allowed to do something with them by luck or by hook or by crook because I ended up who I am or what I am and that’s sort of by accident.”
He told Oxygen.com that the only aspect of his career that he “kind of planned out” was to do something he loved. He said he still loves being a lawyer.
Fieger hinted in 2017 that he may want to run for president, WXYZ Detroit reported. He hasn't done so.
"Trial by Media" is now available to stream on Netflix.
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