Mike Fondi 1937-2016

Former Nevada judge Mike Fondi has died of cancer at age 78.

Born in Ely, Fondi graduated from Stanford and Hastings Law. He spent nearly 40 years in public service. He was a legal aide to Gov. Grant Sawyer and then a deputy attorney general. He was elected Carson City district attorney in 1970 and was appointed state district judge, serving from July 1, 1977, until Aug. 20, 2000. He was elected to that judgeship in 1978. At the time of his death, he was president of the Nevada Judicial Historical Society.

As a state court judge in 1982, he presided over a lawsuit against AMC Jeep that helped get the deadly Jeep CJ-5 off the market and its manufacture halted. He ignored frantic efforts by AMC to settle the case before he could file his findings and filed them anyway. Those findings were mooted by the settlement but still helped turn the tide against the dangerous CJ-5 Jeep.

He held that the vehicle tended to overturn, that passengers were not protected by the rollbar, that it oversteered, that the windshield frame was defective, and that the company knew the defects and failed to tell the public. The Nevada Supreme Court, in a unanimous ruling written by Justice Thomas Steffan, said Fondi erred by releasing his decision after the two sides had settled. It voided his ruling, akin to un-ringing a bell.

“I think it probably saved hundreds of lives because it set the wheels in motion for the demise of that design,” trial lawyer Peter Chase Neumann said in 2004. “I believe they would have kept making that Jeep for another five years or so. They were selling about 500,000 of them a year.”