Basketball Theory

Med mal attorney Duane M. Fiedler strives to even the playing field—in the courts and on the court

Published in 2013 New York Metro Super Lawyers — September 2013

“You can’t live a perfect day,” UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, “without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”

If so, Duane Fiedler, 60, a medical malpractice attorney in White Plains, has had the opportunity for some perfect days recently.

Eight years ago, Fiedler brought his twins and three of their friends to an AAU basketball tryout for eighth-graders in Yonkers. Fiedler has been coaching inner-city basketball since his days at Syracuse University, so he knew firsthand the struggles of disadvantaged youth—struggles his own kids have never had to worry about.

“At that tryout I saw a young African-American guy who brought with him five kids that I later learned were from the Washington Park section of the Bronx,” says Fiedler. “I was so impressed by those kids and how they behaved and how they played basketball that I went up to this guy, Kareem, who was their mentor, and said, ‘Look, this is easy. Pull your guys out of the tryout. Your five will hook up with my five and we will be a team. I’ll take care of your kids like they were my kids.’

“We ended up winning every tournament we entered. We were 35-2. But more importantly, many of the kids from that team spent weekends at my home and my kids would go visit them in the Washington Park playground. … It created personalities and values in kids that would not otherwise have occurred. My sons both wrote their college essays about the experience.

“It created a mentality in them where they never took for granted what they had. They grew up in a very privileged environment, and then all of a sudden their best friends are kids who don’t have medical care; most of them have a single parent, some have no parents. Things that our kids took for granted they would see were actually special, and the Bronx kids started to value education and family. It became a very symbiotic relationship.”

Fiedler coaches year-round, and says he will do so well into the future. Several of his players have gone on to college and a few have played Division I ball. He’s in touch with most of them.

That same long-term care extends to his day job.

“I can’t make them whole,” he says of his med mal clients. “I can’t reverse what happened. But getting them a fair and adequate recovery for their pain and suffering can sometimes significantly improve the quality of their life, and that’s very gratifying. Winning every case is a challenge, the medicine is exciting, and it’s intellectually challenging and enjoyable. I love what I do.”

That’s apparent to Fiedler’s longtime friend and courtroom adversary Alfred Vigorito, a personal injury defense attorney with Bartlett, McDonough & Monaghan, who greatly admires what Fiedler has built on the basketball court.

“He’s really gone out of his way,” says Vigorito, who shares an office building with Fiedler. “For a plaintiff’s attorney who does the kind of work we do—medical malpractice and litigation work, which is very time intensive—it’s quite a nice characteristic to have. He’s a great teacher. He has the ability to instruct because he knows the game.

“He gets them to listen and pay attention to basketball theory, just like he’d be able to explain to a jury a theory of a medical malpractice case and try to convince them why they should find in his favor.”

As Vigorito suggests, it’s all about passion.

“When my friends are going to play 18 holes of golf,” Fiedler says, “I’m in 92-degree weather in the middle of some playground in the Bronx coaching a tournament. You can’t do it if you’re not passionate about it, and the reason I’m so passionate about it is because it’s so incredibly heartfelt and gratifying to be able to affect these kids’ lives. … They were born into incredibly difficult circumstances. Anything I can do to even the playing field, that’s what I’m there for.”

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