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Safran leaves legacy as civil-rights champion

By: Michaela Paukner, [email protected]//September 16, 2020

Safran leaves legacy as civil-rights champion

By: Michaela Paukner, [email protected]//September 16, 2020


Jonathan Safran - Samster Konkel & Safran
Jonathan Safran – Samster Konkel & Safran

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 in May, at age 62, after a 5-1/2 year battle with cancer. He left behind a legacy of championing civil rights and making Milwaukee a better, safer place for all residents.

At Samster Konkel & Safran, he took the lead on lengthy lawsuits against the Milwaukee Police Department, starting with the beating of Frank Jude Jr. by off-duty Milwaukee police officers in 2004.

He 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.

“How unfortunate it is that he is unable to see the Black Lives Matter/police accountability groundswell happening across the country, and especially close to home in Kenosha,” Dawn Safran, Jon’s wife, said. “While he would abhor the violence occurring, he would be advocating for the justice that is long overdue in so many communities.”

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 of 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.

“Knowing Jon, it was an interest to him to do those things,” Konkel said. “He was a problem solver.”


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