Login | September 30, 2020

Akron community pays tribute to beloved attorney Brian Pierce

On Oct. 25 Akron criminal defense attorney Brian Pierce passed away unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. He was 51. (Photo courtesy of the Pierce family).

Legal News Reporter

Published: December 6, 2019

A fervent champion of due process and staunch opponent of the death penalty, criminal defense attorney Brian Pierce believed whole-heartedly in the presumption of innocence, giving his all for each and every client who sought his assistance, said his longtime law partner and friend Don Malarcik.
“Brian was the premier trial lawyer of my generation,” said Malarcik, a partner at Malarcik, Pierce, Munyer & Will. “He tried well over 100 felony trials in state and federal court during his career.
“Of the 19 death penalty cases he handled, all but one of his clients received life sentences,” he said. “The one exception was a client who died during the appeal process.
“Given the gruesome nature of these cases and the amount of money that the state invests, Brian’s record is extremely impressive.”
But on Oct. 25, in the prime of his career, Pierce died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. He was 51.
“It was shocking, devastating and surreal,” said Malarcik.
To pay tribute to Pierce’s memory, Malarcik said the firm name will continue to be Malarcik, Pierce, Munyer & Will.
Former Summit County Prosecutor and Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Callahan said Pierce was a “good friend” and “one of the finest lawyers this area has ever seen.
“Brian was a consummate professional,” said Callahan. “He had a good way with his clients, but more importantly he fought and fought for them. If I was in trouble I would have gone to Brian Pierce.”
Outside of the courtroom, Callahan said Pierce loved having a good time. “Brian always had a smile on his face. It’s going to take time for everyone, especially his family, to come to terms with his loss.”
Born in Cleveland on July 8, 1968 to Sheila and David Pierce, he was the eldest of their three children.
Pierce was raised in Erie, Pennsylvania. He graduated from The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1991. During his years as an undergraduate he became a die-hard Nittany Lions fan.
In 1994, he obtained his juris doctorate from The University of Akron School of Law.
While at Akron Law, Pierce clerked for Judge John Campbell. After passing the bar, he began sharing office space with his son James M. Campbell.
“I knew Brian would be successful, but I never realized the level of success he would achieve,” said Campbell. “At the time he shared office space with me he had more of a general practice.
“Brian was always smart, personable and outgoing—everything you would want in a lawyer,” Campbell said. “We kept in touch. I referred cases to him and worked on cases with him.
“I was very proud of him. When I heard the news both my wife (also an attorney) and I cried.  We, and the entire Akron community will miss him tremendously.”
Malarcik first got to know Pierce at Akron Law. He said they quickly became friends. After they began practicing, the two often ran into one another at the courthouse.
Together with attorney Joseph Gorman they formed the law firm of Gorman, Malarcik & Pierce in 2001. When Gorman left in 2018, the firm name was changed to Malarcik, Pierce, Munyer & Will.
“Brian was the guy everyone wanted to be around,” said Malarcik. “He made everybody happier and always enjoyed life to the fullest. He had a large and close group of friends from Penn State, Akron Law, the legal community and Hudson, the place he lived with his wife and children.”
Criminal defense and domestic relations attorney Ed Bonetti said he and Pierce became close friends around 2000 after serving as co-counsel on a homicide case.
“Brian prepared, worked and dug the hardest of any attorney I have ever known,” said Bonetti. “He always thought out of the box. Working with him made me a better attorney because I knew my preparation had to be up to his standards.
“He had such passion for life and went full throttle with everything he did,” Bonetti said. “When you worked on a case with him, you worked harder than you ever had. Brian also believed in having fun and if you were with him you could be sure you would have a good time. That’s who he was.”
Over the years Pierce won jury acquittals for clients facing a wide variety of charges, including aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, rape, kidnapping, money laundering and aggravated vehicular assault. He also argued appellate cases before the 9th District Court of Appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court.
In 2013, Pierce handled the first federal campaign finance trial in the state of Ohio, securing his client’s acquittal on 18 separate charges under federal election law.
Frank Williams, president of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Akron Lodge 7 said Pierce was one of several attorneys they would rely on for legal advice.
“We have several FOP attorneys who we can call 24 hours a day,” said Williams. “But we only have a few that we trust to advise or represent members facing a potential crisis.
“If an officer was involved in a shooting incident or serious use of force, we often sought out Brian. He was always very responsive no matter what time of day or night that we called him. He had a way of calming the member down and letting the person know he would make sure everything worked out okay. To this day, I don’t know if he charged us a dime for his services.
“Brian was very well respected by our members and he became good friends with a few of the members, including myself. He came to our Christmas parties and donated to our causes.
“He was a unique person and I know he will be missed by many people in the Akron area.”
A member of the Ohio State and Akron bar associations, Pierce served a three-year term on the Akron Bar Association Board of Trustees and was a member of the Criminal Law Section and Grievance Committee. He was also a member of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
In an email, Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Amy Corrigall Jones praised Pierce for his success in handling hundreds, if not thousands of cases in the Summit County Common Pleas Court.
“Judges in Summit County and across the country respected him and had the utmost confidence in his representation of his clients,” she said. “He was brilliant, composed and the utmost professional in the courtroom. Most, if not all of his opponents, revered him.  And yet, despite his tremendous success, he remained humble and incredibly down-to-earth.
“The legal community has suffered a great loss, but his legacy will survive forever.”
Pierce was committed to furthering the legal education of Akron Law students, volunteering for the Summer Trial Academy and serving as a guest lecturer for students taking trial advocacy classes.
“Brian was a good friend to the law school,” said Dana Cole, associate professor of law and director of the Summer Trial Academy. “He never refused a request to work with our students, even if it was short notice. 
“Brian was a beautiful contraction,” said Cole. “He took his work very seriously, but he was also a lot of fun to be around. His message to our students was to be authentic, to never try to be like somebody else.
“Brian never pretended to be perfect. That was his magic. He was always real and I think that made those around him feel comfortable enough to drop the façade of perfection and be human. That’s why so many people loved him, especially jurors. He was genuine and they could relate to him and to his clients through him.”
The Brian M. Pierce Scholarship has been established at Akron Law, Pierce’s alma mater. 
“Several thousand dollars in contributions have been received. We’re hopeful this will be an endowed scholarship,” said Cole.
Anyone interested in donating can go to www.uakron.edu/giving/law/Pierce or text PIERCE to 41444 to be directed to the online giving form. In addition, checks can also be mailed to The University of Akron Foundation.
“Brian was a major force in the legal community in Akron and beyond,” said Cole. “He practiced law here for 25 years. We took for granted we’d have him for 25 more. He cannot be replaced.”
Malarcik said annual events are planned starting in October 2020 to honor Pierce’s memory and raise money for the scholarship fund that carries his name.
“Brian loved the Penn State Lions so much that his son has the middle name Lion,” said Malarcik. “So next year his fraternity brothers from Penn State will host a golf outing during the weekend of the Ohio State/Penn State football game.
“The following year the game will take place in Columbus and the legal community will honor his memory by holding an event to raise scholarship money. Alternating the event between Ohio and Pennsylvania will bring everybody in Brian’s life together and ensure his children will continue to hear stories about their father from those who knew and loved him dearly.”
On Nov. 3, a celebration of life was held for Pierce at the John S. Knight Center in Akron. Malarcik said the venue had seating for 400 guests, but nearly 700 people showed up.
Pierce leaves behind his wife of 24 years, Lisa Lobbe and their three children Mackenzie, Colin and Peyton Pierce. He’s also survived by his parents Sheila and David Pierce; in-laws Arthur and Josephine Lobbe; brother Adam (Tara), sister Hally (Gary Peterson); nephews Jameson (Adam and Tara), Chase and Max (Gary and Hally) as well as his brother-in-law Jon Lobbe, his wife Jackie and their sons Kaiden and Davis, numerous friends, law partners Malarcik, Noah Munyer and Jacob Will, firm colleagues Larry Vuillemin, Rick Dobbins and Jim Henshaw and “firm momma” Erica McGee.