Don Maciejewski

20 Questions with Don Maciejewski 


1. I'm told that your upper classman advisor in college was one of my favorite people, Tim Russert.  Give us the inside scoop on Tim in his early years and whether his path to law school had an influence on you.

Tim Russert was a dynamic person. Tim and I both went to John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. I was an incoming freshman the year that Tim graduated (1972). Tim was my senior orientation advisor, and he was extremely helpful to me in making the transition from high school to college, very insightful and the type of guy that would do anything to help you. What impressed me most about Tim was that he was always the smartest guy in the room, but he never bragged about it or let it be known. He treated me like I was a graduating senior friend of his and not an incoming "frosh". Tim went on to Cleveland-Marshall School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio, and graduated with his JD in 1976, while I was just graduating from John Carroll with a BS degree. Knowing Tim did not influence my decision to become a lawyer because I had planned to enter the military to go to flight school and then later to medical school. What did influence me, though, was Tim's leadership by example and his attitude that you should be nice and respectful to folks; even though you might disagree with someone on an opinion or other matter, it does not mean that you had to dislike them as a person.

2.  You have achieved a high stature in the field of aviation law.  How has your background as a military helicopter pilot helped you in achieving such success in this field?

Yes, definitely, and thanks for the nice compliment. My training as a military helicopter pilot and aircraft accident investigator and engineer are largely responsible for the wonderful measure of success that I have been blessed with. I have always said that in aviation crash litigation, the hard part for any lawyer is learning the piloting, engineering, flight dynamics and aircraft characteristics. The easy part, in my opinion, is the lawyer portion. In order to be a really thorough and committed aircraft accident attorney, you have to know the technical side of the house better than the legal side. You also have to love what you are doing to truly be good at it. I loved aviation and flying, and to tell you the truth, I was a far better helicopter pilot than I ever was as a lawyer.  

3.  As a speaker at the LCA’s 2011 Fall Conference in Boston, you followed up on a theme put forth by California Fellow Tom Mesereau earlier this year in Laguna Beach, which is that great lawyering does not require incivility. In your experience with "Rambo-type" lawyers, do you think your reputation for superlative, yet civil, lawyering has influenced those lawyers with scorched earth mentality?

The answer here is "yes and no ", and I am not trying to sound like a lawyer, but 90% of the lawyers that I have problems with in a case ultimately turn it around and do things right and with civility once they are beaten fair and square. I have always found that when you come at someone head-on, without an agenda, and play by the rules, you will have done your best job regardless of whether you win or lose. Those 90% of lawyers that I have had problems with due to their incivility have later become personal friends and professional acquaintances who have developed a mutual respect when working with me and my firm. I always treat people with respect, regardless of how they treat me. The other 10% of the problem lawyers will never change, and we must be astute enough to understand that. That 10% are what I call "hacks," and they should not be practicing law or doing anything that involves logical thinking and reasoning. However, they are in the system, and we have to deal with them. It is my opinion that every lawyer that has a problem with an uncivil lawyer is duty bound to get them sanctioned or otherwise on course and playing by the rules. There is nothing like winning fairly, especially when your opponent has done nothing in the case but try to delay, obfuscate and outright lie and cheat.  

4.  In mentoring associates through the years, have you attempted to teach your philosophy of excellence with civility?

Definitely! When I started out in the law, I was older and already had a first career. No one helped me get a job or helped me along the way, so when I got involved in the legal profession, I made it my goal to help other young lawyers in their careers. I actively mentor law students and hire them as law clerks in our firm, and I also teach at a law school here in Florida. Regardless of the subject I am teaching, I stress the importance of civility and professionalism. New lawyers sometimes think that it is important to make the quick buck and to cut corners and to tell "white lies" that later become big lies. I think the best way to show young lawyers that playing by the rules is important is to really "walk the talk". In other words, be a great role model and show by doing rather than by talking a mean game. 

5.  You attended law school later than most of your peers.  Do you think having a military career prior to pursuing a law degree helped you focus on the type of law you wanted to practice, as well as helped you develop your sense of decorum within the judicial system?

Without a doubt. Being a little older when I went to law school and having the benefit of a   military career helped me immensely. I already knew well how to plan, prepare, and execute a given mission, and my professional behavior and everything that I did was the rule rather than the exception. Something that military training taught me was to anticipate and have a backup plan and to never underestimate your opponent.  Controlled emotions, respectful behavior and positive attitude are things that my parents taught me and expected of me. By the time that I got into the military, things like decorum and everything else that go into being a decent and respectful person were a breeze to me.  I also learned that being in control and being respectful of others are signs of strength and that yelling and ranting are true signs of weakness.  

6.  On a lighter note, tell us about the 1964 Corvette you drive to the office each day.

That is one of my favorite subjects. My wife, Judy, bought me a 1964 Corvette Sting Ray Roadster for my 50th birthday. The car was in good shape and drivable when I got it, but it was in bad need of a restoration. My son, David, and I took our time and spent about four years completely redoing the car. David did all of the mechanical work, and I did the upholstery and carpeting. We had it sent out for paint, chrome, tires, etc. It is fully functional, and it is really a head-turner. I love driving it, but it makes me appreciate our modern technology in automobiles and the safety advances that we have made over the years. I drive it to work several days a week, even in the rain, and it is a blast to drive. It is really one of my only hobbies, as I am not a golfer and do not belong to lots of clubs and things like that. I love old cars and the memories they bring back to me.


7.  While getting a graduate degree at the University of Southern California, I understand that you became the biggest Trojan fan to have grown up in The Buckeye State.  So let me ask you, among McKay, Robinson and Carroll, who was the greatest coach and why?

USC was a great school, and to tell you the truth, the Graduate Degree in Engineering was much harder than anything I saw in law school. I enjoyed my time at USC, and although I grew up in Ohio, I am a diehard USC fan and still follow the Buckeyes, as well. John McKay and John Robinson were brilliant coaches, and I have the highest respect for them. I met Coach Robinson many years ago, and he was a real down to earth guy who had a no-nonsense attitude. I have also met Coach Pete Carroll, who I think is the consummate football professional. The man’s excellence and detail-oriented approach in everything that every player does at his position is a large part of why USC excelled under Coach Carroll.  I have to say Pete Carroll is my favorite, and I miss him now that he is with the Seattle Seahawks.

8. What was your evolution toward litigation, and did it begin before, during or after law school? That is, did you want to be Perry Mason growing up, or did you want to become a trial lawyer after getting out of law school and reading contracts all day long for the first six months of your career?

I did watch Perry Mason in the 1950's, but I never really thought I would become a lawyer. I wanted to fly, and I knew that it was expensive and the only way to really do it well would be to go through military flight training. Besides, the military, in my opinion, provided me an opportunity to do what I wanted to and to also serve my country, which was important to me. I knew that I had to do the flying part of my career plan early in life because the military does not send you to flight school when you are 50 years old. I figured that I would fly and make a career at that and then later in life apply to medical school, as I wanted to become a physician. I got side tracked while a pilot in the Army stationed at Fort Rucker, where I was also doing accident investigation work on helicopter and airplane crash cases. I had many opportunities to meet lawyers who were working on these cases who would come to Fort Rucker to visit to inspect the wreckage and interview witnesses. I found most of the lawyers to be very good lawyers, but to not know much of what they needed to handle a helicopter or an airplane crash case. That’s when I said to myself, "Hey, I could do that!" At any rate, it was a perfect segue from being a pilot and aircraft accident investigator/engineer to becoming an air crash lawyer.

I did law school at night while I was on active duty and took the Bar, and the rest is history.

9. What do you consider your most unusual accomplishment?

I don’t know if this would be considered an “unusual" accomplishment, but I do consider marrying my beautiful wife, Judy, as my greatest accomplishment. She is not only my best friend, lover, confidant and paralegal, but she is a wonderful partner to go through life with. I consider marrying her an accomplishment because we are complementary to one another. We have different perspectives on things, as I am more type A and she is more type B, but being together allows us both to focus on our best traits and minimize our less-than-best traits.  My success as a lawyer is largely due to having a great wife who is a super paralegal and wonderful with people.

10. What has been the biggest change in the way law is practiced between the time you first began until now?

Without a doubt the biggest change in the way that law is practiced between the time that I started and now is technology -email, facsimile machines and things that do not require lawyers talking to one another, meeting in person and getting to know one another. It is not unusual in cases now that you do not meet the opposing lawyer in person until a pre-trial conference or deposition in the case. In the old days you knew who you were dealing with just about from day one of the case. I prefer the old way, but we all have to progress with technology.

11. Litigators tend to travel a great deal. What are some of your favorite cities or places, and what fascinates you about them?

Wow, this is a hard question. There are so many wonderful cities and places that we have traveled to and visited on cases, but I would say that our favorite cities are Honolulu, Washington, D.C., Palm Beach, San Diego, San Francisco and any city in the Orient (i.e. Seoul, Korea, Bangkok, Thailand). Doing air crash cases allows us to travel to some neat, out of the way and strange places. Years ago I had a case involving an Army helicopter crash that occurred in Wiesbaden, Germany, which is an absolutely beautiful city. Another case involved a crash of a transport airplane in Pretoria South Africa, and yet another air crash case in Manta, Ecuador. You never know where you might end up on an air crash case. What fascinates me about the American cities that I mentioned is how much each community offers in terms of entertainment, sports, dining, and opportunities for physical fitness and working out. The Orient is a magnificent place because the people are so charming, hospitable and friendly to Americans.

12. Have you ever had a case in which your opposing counsel went over the line ethically in representing their clients’ interests? How did you deal with it?

Yes, unfortunately, but I have only had a few cases where opposing counsel went over the line ethically. One case stands out in my mind. Years ago, we had a helicopter crash case in Arizona in State Court where we represented the wives and estates of two Army pilots who were killed in an OH-58 crash.  In that case, the defense lawyer for the aircraft manufacturer sponsored an expert witness pilot whose credentials were false. The aircraft manufacturer had been using the same expert for years as their "go to" guy. We were able to uncover the untruths in the expert’ s credentials, resume and experience and the trial judge in that case sanctioned defense counsel and it’s client to the tune of $575,000.00 and granted us a new trial. The case settled shortly after the sanctions award and the new trial order was issued. That is an example of what you must do to expose those who lie, cheat or steal in this business. This is probably an extreme example, but it shows what just results can occur by exposing a fraud.

13. Has trial law’s golden age passed or have we yet to reach it? What intrigues you about prior generations of trial lawyers?

It depends what type of lawyer you are. Trial law's golden age has not passed for those who want to play fair and do things the right way. Conversely, the lawyers who are eager to cut corners to get results,  and care little about the client or how they get their results, will never see or appreciate the golden age of trial practice. What intrigues me about prior generations of trial lawyers is their tenacity and loyalty to their client and to getting to the truth of the case. Compared to 25 years ago, we do not get to try as many cases as we use to, and I think that has affected many lawyers’ judgment on how to best resolve a case.

14. What is the first thing that comes to mind if I ask, “If you were a judge, what would you do differently from what you deal with most frequently in your practice before presiding jurists?”

That is an easy one. The answer to this question is simple- do not tolerate others who delay, obfuscate or fail to cooperate in discovery. I see too many judges who are great interpreters of the law, but who do not rule enough with an iron hand in corralling bad lawyers who do nothing to move a case. I wish more judges would be stricter in punishing wrongdoing attorneys.

15. What is your greatest extravagance?

This is a 2-parter. My greatest extravagance with regard to "things" are exotic cars and custom made suits and shirts, but "things" are not really important in life. So I would say that my overall greatest extravagance is the time that I give myself to dream and visualize.

16. What object in your office serves to re-energize you when your mood needs an adjustment?

Those special objects in my office that serve to re-energize me when my mood needs an adjustment are photographs of my wife, Judy, and I on trips or vacations and doing things that we enjoy. It makes me realize that I work to live and not vise-versa. This also motivates me to help others because when you work to live and place your client first, everything else falls into place.

17. If you could meet anyone from history, who would it be, and why?

Without a doubt, if I could meet anyone from history it would have to be the good Lord....He would have the answers to all my questions.

18. Diversity, along with excellence and integrity, is central to the LCA’s mission and plays a fundamental role in our selection of Fellows, growth, and goals. We want to quote you on diversity in the next issue of Litigation Commentary & Review, as well as the Diversity Law Institute's new website. So in a word, sentence, or paragraph, what, in your opinion, is the significance or importance of furthering diversity within the profession of law and throughout our system of justice?

"Diversity is the key ingredient in the perfect recipe for our collective greatness."

19. What trait do you most value in your friends?

I value undying loyalty and honesty as traits in my friends. As a friend, I am with you 100% whether you are right or wrong, and I will tell you what the truth is, not what you want to hear. I expect the same from my friends.

20. What is your motto?

"To be the man, you have to beat the man!" (Only kidding, this is a famous saying of professional wrestler, Ric Flair and I have been known to throw his motto around). However, on a more serious note, my motto is "Be nice until it’s time to not be nice".


By G. Steven Henry