When Jonathan Safran took on a case, he was dogged in the pursuit of his goals and painstaking in his methods.
“Jon was like the bloodhound,” said Jerome Konkel, Safran’s partner at Samster Konkel & Safran in Milwaukee. “He handled cases in a methodical way and kept working the file. He just was going to follow the trail wherever it led, and there was no getting away from him.”
Safran died on May 18, at age 62, after a five-and-a-half year battle with cancer. He earned his juris doctor from Indiana University Bloomington’s Maurer School of Law in 1983, and he went on to work in personal-injury and civil-rights law for more than 35 years.
In 2002, he approached Konkel and James Samster about a partnership, and the three went on to open the personal-injury firm Samster Konkel & Safran.
Konkel said it was somewhat of an unusual pairing, since it brought together three seasoned attorneys with their own practices. But it flourished. The firm began taking on a number of high-profile cases with Safran at the lead, starting with a lawsuit over the beating of Frank Jude Jr. by off-duty Milwaukee police officers in 2004.
No matter the size of his cases, Safran handled them all the same, Konkel said — from $3,000 car-accident claims to lengthy lawsuits involving the Milwaukee Police Department.
Safran became known for those civil rights cases, some of which led to policy and procedural changes in the police department. The lawsuit over the fatal police shooting of Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park in 2014, for instance, changed the way officers handled cases involving people with mental illness.
“Later on, Jon was championing causes,” Konkel said. “That began to be a very real part of the practice.”
While the cases were difficult and often lengthy, Safran approached each with great attention to detail and a calm demeanor.
“He had great attention to detail, and he was meticulous in review,” Konkel said. “If he was going to handle something, he was going to know all about it.”
Safran even decided to enroll in classes through the Milwaukee Police Department after, in an early case, someone had told him he didn’t know what it was like to be an officer on the streets.
“Jon took that to heart,” Konkel said. “He wasn’t going to let someone be able to say (that) without doing something to figure out what it was like.”
Safran went to great lengths for his clients. He’d take calls on nights and weekends, and even if he couldn’t help someone, he’d still just listen.
“If there was any fault that Jon had, it was that he wasn’t able to say no to clients,” Konkel said. “Jon would spend 45 minutes on the phone with someone he’d never met before, and he would listen to their story and give them a lot of satisfaction, even if there was nothing they could do legally.”
Outside work, Safran spent a lot of time with his family, while taking on various civil responsibilities. He’d go on weekend camping trips with his wife and their two children in Door County, a relaxing departure from his practice.
He was involved in the American Juvenile Arthritis Organization, YMCA Camp Mattawa, Mequon-Thiensville Chamber of Commerce, Mequon-Thiensville School District committees, the American Bar Foundation and Community Coalition for Quality Policing.
“Knowing Jon, it was an interest to him to do those things,” Konkel said. “He was a problem solver.”
Safran’s family is holding a private memorial in his honor.