We’ve all seen those Interfaith Paths to Peace bumper stickers that say “Coexist” and feature a number of different symbols – religious and otherwise – to illustrate the point. After speaking with attorney Jon Fleischaker for even a short while, it becomes apparent he has embraced that philosophy both personally and professionally.
He believes that feuds are fueled when people are unwilling to come to the table to seek a commonality between them to ultimately benefit them and the community. “We must,” he stresses, “seek to find that common denominator and go after one another with words – not guns.” Perhaps that is why protecting the rights of all individuals, especially arguing for the least fortunate among us, became a passion early on in his legal career.
Smart and formidable, he is good at what he does and feels his Jewish perspective adds yet another dimension to his work. “I always mention that I am Jewish when I travel around the state,” he says, “since it gives me an opportunity to broaden others’ horizons.”
He recalls meeting with judges in Eastern Kentucky, for instance, and telling them about the Holocaust. “They had never met anyone with my history before,” he says, “and I wanted them to know that I was personally affected by the event since a part of my family line ended in 1943.”
Fleischaker, his twin brother Marc, older brother David and sister Beth, understood the need to protect the rights of others as youngsters growing up in the Highlands. They were influenced by their mother, Betty, who was very active and committed to civil rights in the 1950s and their father, Leopold, a businessman who supported her work and lived his life never seeing differences in people.
A graduate of Seneca High School, Fleischaker was a good student as well as a good athlete who helped the school’s basketball and golf teams win regional and state championships. He played both sports at Swarthmore College as well and graduated second in his class from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. After being away, he wanted to return to Louisville to make a difference – a life decision he still feels is one of the best he ever made.
Within his first year of practice, he became involved with newspaper and media law and even sat in on a Supreme Court case with attorney Ed Zingman. Shortly thereafter, he became involved with drafting Kentucky’s Open Meetings Law, which allows the public to be aware of elected officials’ deliberations and encourages citizen input, and he went on to write Kentucky’s Open Records Law guaranteeing citizens the right to obtain public records when he was just 30 years old.
A partner in the Dinsmore & Shoal law firm, Fleischaker has more than 40 years’ experience with media law and defending and prosecuting First Amendment cases guaranteeing the freedoms of speech and press as well as the related First Amendment freedoms of religion, assembly and the right to petition government. He has represented newspapers and broadcasters and been the most visible attorney in the state handling these concerns. Still active in the community, he was most recently recognized by the Department of Public Advocacy and the Louisville-Jefferson County Public Defender Corporation for his pro bono service supporting the constitutional rights of Kentucky’s poor and needy.
Fleischaker contends that Kentucky is a great place to practice First Amendment Law because Kentuckians really believe in fair rights and are not afraid to stand up to the government. “I’ve gotten to know this great state and its people pretty well,” he says, “and I really believe our lawyers and judiciary are as good or better than those in other states.” He has lectured across Kentucky and taken part in numerous panel discussions, but he particularly enjoys speaking to journalism students and Governor Scholars participants about First Amendment issues and feels encouraged and enthused by them.
In 2008, he and his wife of 26 years, Kim Greene, created the Fleischaker-Greene Fund for Excellence in First Amendment Issues at Western Kentucky University. The fund supports a scholars program that offers top journalism students the opportunity to take an advanced special topics class each year and brings nationally recognized speakers to the school. The couple takes pride in the good projects the class undertakes each year.
When asked about the role Judaism has played in his life, Fleischaker is quick to point out he has always had a strong Jewish identity. “I love community service,” he says, “and I strive to find answers to problems rather than create them. We only have one life to live, but we live on by virtue of what we do here.”
Several years ago, he spent countless hours serving on the By-laws Committee when the Jewish Community Federation and the Jewish Community Center merged to form the Jewish Community of Louisville. He considered it an act of tikkun olam – repair of the world. “I thought it was a necessary thing to do,” he says, “and I felt committed because I was doing something to make things better for the community.” By his own admission, he approached that task as he has all others by maintaining the ability to accept that there are no absolutes; you must seek to find the common core among the parties to get the job done.
The father of two children and grandfather of seven reflects, “I’ve had a great life here and I’ve been recognized for it. I believe there’s a lot you can do for this state and in our community. If possible, I think our children should leave Kentucky to gain some experience and then come back here and explore some of the countless ways to make this a better place. I contend it is our obligation as Jews and as people to do that.”