Man do I miss Mel.He was one of a kind.A genius lawyer.A kind-hearted, humane soul.A true crusader for justice.A friend.Yes I’m proud to have been one of those who were fortunate enough to know personally Melvyn I. Weiss.
For five years until his death last month, I was honored to have him as a tenant in an office building I own in downtown Boca Raton, Fl. He died at his home in Boca Raton. He was 82.
Mel was distinguished, charitable and tough.He fought hard to help millions to finally get their comeuppance thanks to his class action lawsuits, an area of the law he pioneered and raised to almost an art form.
Besides the law, one of Mel’s passions was art itself.He owned one of the largest private collection of Picasso paintings in America. He gave me a book on Picasso once that I will always treasure.
I’ll so miss Mel.He was one of my heroes. When he was in town during the winter months, he would pop into my boardroom at TransMedia Group.He’d always be welcome because he was so interesting, inquisitive and crafty.
When I introduced him to my PR clients or prospects, they were so impressed.He’d ask them such incisive questions coated with his unique brand of humor.
Mel’s legendary class-action lawsuits made him a wake-up call to corporate America, a hero to plaintiffs, a catalyst for legal protections of investors and consumers and finally a felon.Yes he pushed the envelope just a little too far.
What caused his death was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to his son Stephen A. Weiss, a partner in the law firm Seeger Weiss.
Mel was a pro bono lawyer who hit homeruns for terrorism victims and other causes. He was a fund-raiser for Democrats, a leader of the Israel Policy Forum, which favors a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict. He and his beautiful wife, Bobbi, the former Barbara Joan Kaplan, sponsored a program in public-interest law at Mel’s alma mater, New York University Law School.
But he was best known for building a fledgling law firm into a powerhouse that compelled miscreant and recalcitrant businesses to pay billions of dollars to aggrieved shareholders and customers.
He sued or threatened lawsuits against them or their advisers for securities fraud, phony accounting, environmental damage, false advertising and other forms of misconduct.
His law firm, Milberg Weiss, became the number-one class action litigation firm in America.
Over the years, it won multimillion-dollar lawsuits against huge corporations on behalf of shareholders who were wronged, cheated, injured or murdered, including holocaust victims for whom he won a $1.25 billion settlement from Swiss banks in recompense for the horrors that befell them and their loved ones.
Mel’s success was so great that Congress raised the legal hurdle for winning such lawsuits in the 1990’s.
Mel’s signature class actions helped millions of people who were injured or who were victims of fraud, schemes and deceptions to finally receive justice.
Ironically it was the justice system that ended his stellar career when he was found guilty of paying plaintiffs to bring lawsuits, which is illegal in America, but not in many other countries.What motivated Mel was not the money, but the pursuit of justice, for which he had a passion, so much so that it cost him a contemplative year in prison.
According to the indictment against him, it’s illegal under New York law for a lawyer to promise or give anything of value to induce a person to bring a lawsuit or to reward a person for having done so.
I doubt if I will ever find another friend, certainly not another tenant, or lawyer as sweet as Mel, although I’m sure “sweet” is hardly how his opponents in legal actions would describe him.Mel was a fierce fighter for justice and like Lou Gehrig, he’d swing for the fence against the high and mighty.