A Cedar Rapids attorney was recently elected as the president of the largest national organization of defense attorneys.
Mike Weston, attorney with Lederer, Weston and Craig law firm, was elected president of the DRI-The Voice of the Defense Bar in October after working his way through the ranks over the last 28 years of the professional organization, which has 22,000 members in 30 counties. He has been a member since 1985 and has served as the director of DRI, a past Iowa state representative, former chair of the public policy committee and in 2010 was elected second vice president.
“Mike brings to the presidency such a great combination of energy, enthusiasm, intellectual heft, strategic thinking and a warm person connection to people,” Mary Massaron Ross, outgoing president, said after Weston was elected. “He’s just the sort of leader that all organizations seek but seldom find.”
Weston said the DRI works to increase civil jury trials, promote fair and efficient resolutions, assist attorneys with management of law firms and provide continuing education. Weston, who handles commercial litigation throughout the state, is well aware of the challenges facing defense attorneys in Cedar Rapids, as well as across the state and on the national level with civil actions moving away from jury trials in favor of private mediation and arbitration.
Weston said Iowa is unfortunately like the rest of the country when it comes to courts not being adequately funded. The lack of funding results in trial delays for civil issues because criminal cases take priority. Because of the delays and funding issues, many of these cases don’t make it to a jury trial. Every day civil trials are pushed back it creates more expenses for plaintiffs and defendants.
Businesses are opting for arbitration or mediation in which the settlements aren’t made public so it’s difficult to know what a case is worth because decisions or damage awards aren’t coming out of jury trials, Weston said. Business leaders also are concerned about the lack of judges with expertise in complex litigation.
“We have to instill trust in the court system again to make businesses comfortable to bring their cases into court,” Weston said. “The business court set up last year will help this as the reputations of those judges grow, more businesses will come back into court.”
Weston was referring to the Iowa Business Specialty Court, a three-year pilot project for commercial cases involving $200,000 or more, that started taking cases this year. The court project was created after the Iowa Civil Justice Reform Task Force looked at ways to make the civil court system more efficient, less complicate and more affordable. The judges presiding over these cases have specific business and commercial litigation experience and expertise.
“The goal is to speed up the time it takes to get a more complex case through court by having it on a separate track from the other cases, and to have judges with the expertise to better handle these kinds of cases,” Weston said.
According to a recent DRI’s Center for Law and Public Policy poll, 40 percent of respondents think the civil courts in their states have all the funding they need, another 40 percent say the courts don’t have enough, and the rest are unsure.
Weston said he didn’t understand how 60 percent of respondents could think there’s no funding problem or aren’t sure there’s a problem with the “literally thousands of newspaper articles, and all the effects of the funding shortage being played out in the nation’s courts system.”
Weston said he was happy to see the Iowa judicial branch receive more funding this year, a $5.7 million increase over last year, and that state judges received raises. The additional funding also allowed court clerks’ offices in all 99 counties to be open full-time to the public again, five days a week. Since 2009, the offices closed early twice a week.
His goals as president on the national level will continue to build on the DRI successes of making rule changes in civil procedure to lower costs of litigation, continue to file amicus briefs on U.S. Supreme Court cases, encourage more involvement of women and minorities in the profession and continue to increase the organization’s global presence.
Weston, a founding member of Lederer, Weston and Craig, focuses on product liability, commercial litigation, professional liability, torts, insurance disputes, bad faith litigation and insurance coverage. His law firm has offices in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines but the attorneys handle cases over the entire state and in some surrounding states. Weston received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa in 1977 and his law degree from the UI College of Law in 1980.