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In-house counsel for Simon Property Group embraces the legalities of shopping

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In-House Counsel

Going to the mall isn’t an off-hours activity for Jason Schiesser.

That’s where the Indianapolis attorney’s mind must go every day when he goes to work, as one of the many in-house corporate counsel for the nation’s largest shopping mall owner, Simon Property Group. The 34-year-old focuses on mall-specific legal issues and often makes a visit to the places where millions of shoppers spend their time either in person or online and pump countless dollars into the economy.

Not exactly where Schiesser expected he’d end up as a kid who grew up on “the wrong side of the tracks.” The 34-year old attorney said he often ponders how he ended up where he is today despite starting out on a much different path as a child.

“I was given the chance to shape my future rather than allowing my childhood circumstances to shape me,” he said.
 

schiesser Jason Schiesser serves as corporate counsel for the nation’s largest shopping mall owner, Simon Property Group. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Growing up on the outskirts of Valparaiso with little money, Schiesser had a dream of attending college ever since elementary school when he’d watch Indiana University basketball with his dad. Neither of his parents were college graduates, but they worked to make sure their son had access to the best schools and could move on to college, he recalls. Aside from being exposed to neighborhood theft, violence, and criminal activity, Schiesser suffered a kidney infection at age 9 and recovered after a few weeks, but then at 15 he suffered from a mal seizure and was put on medication that took him away from competitive sports.

College gave him a fresh start. He worked multiple jobs and received the Valparaiso Dollars for Scholars renewable $500 scholarship, which gave him a total $4,000 to use for his education at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Graduating summa cum laude in 2001 from Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis, Schiesser went to work at Baker & Daniels where he had served as a summer associate. Working in the firm’s business and finance group, he says his responsibilities included primarily transactional work for cities and developers, such as the Circle Centre Mall refinancing, Lucas Oil Stadium financing, and the Conrad and Simon headquarters building projects.

“Now, I’m over here at Simon and get to see things from a little different perspective,” Schiesser said, noting that he went in-house in May 2006. “I’m doing something completely different than what I was doing on the other side, and I’m more of a corporate generalist.”

As one of more than 30 lawyers working in various legal departments for Simon, Schiesser is one of six in the legal operations department. Legal operations, he says, handles “pretty much everything” outside of the other divisions including legal finance on mortgages and acquisitions, real estate development, and leasing.

“There is a lot of overlap, but we work mostly alongside the folks in other groups that are more specialized,” he said. “We serve as legal advisors to executive management here at corporate, and also servicing the 400 shopping centers across the country.”

Schiesser’s work day may involve litigation or contract negotiation/review involving commercial, employment, or real estate matters of law as well as risk management policies and procedures. Schiesser said each attorney in his division handles on average 150 to 200 pieces of active litigation at a time that might impact hundreds of operations, including commercial shopping mall matters, lease disputes, or slip and fall cases.

“It all keeps us busy and on our toes,” he said. “We do a lot of work in-house and pre-litigation dispute resolution in our group before it might turn into litigation, and then we might actively manage it. In most cases, we get local counsel to handle the day-to-day litigation in that location.”

As the economy has worsened in recent years, Schiesser said he’s noticed an overall increase in litigation. But he points to Simon’s growth rather than the economy as a main reason for the increase.

In the past year, Simon has completed a $2.3 billion purchase of Prime Outlet malls that added 21 shopping centers to the company, Schiesser said, and it continues looking to increase its portfolio nationally and overseas.

“We continue to grow, which in turn results in more property to service and more work generally,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have weathered the recession well and like to view ourselves as a leader in the retail real estate industry. We’ve demonstrated through stock performance and growth and income that we deserve that distinction.”

Schiesser said his division spends a good amount of time on landlord-tenant disputes, since the shopping malls essentially become like mini-cities and “differences of opinion” often come up. Someone might call to ask how to remove a customer or tenant because of complaints, or how to deal with merchants selling merchandise that potentially infringes on another merchant and whether that qualifies as grounds to terminate a lease.

More recent trends in the shopping industry keep Schiesser on his toes, such as how real brick-and-mortar centers can compete with online shopping sites. Simon has been trying to connect customers more online, such as developing an iPhone application specifically for Simon Malls that offers discounts for shoppers. Another focus has been adding a tool that tracks customers going in and out of stores and giving shoppers an instant discount or coupon once they enter that store, Schiesser said.

Reviewing those shopping center legalities combined with security reporting issues has been an interesting challenge, Schiesser said. It brings a whole new level of understanding because you’re not only a legal advisor, but also a business advisor who must spot potential hurdles down the road.

“Technology is driving a lot of the changes, but at the end of the day people still want to come shop,” he said. “We’re trying to make these centers the places to go, but offer main street fairness for everyone involved.”

Despite the growth and activity level, the past year has been a tough one for the Indianapolis-based Simon – specifically because of the November 2009 death of one of its named founders, Melvin Simon, and continued litigation between family members over that personal estate. Schiesser said the company’s growth has kept most of the legal staff busy and focused and they don’t have much involvement in those ongoing legal issues, but losing Melvin Simon did hit many in the company hard.

“Losing Melvin was a big blow to the gut, just because he was a founding father of the company,” Schiesser said. “But he hadn’t been as involved recently, and thankfully David (Simon, Melvin’s son) is an incredible visionary and a fantastic leader. The mantle had already been passed, and so there wasn’t a letdown at all and we have been able to keep moving.”

Schiesser said he sees the in-house world giving him a chance to become a more creative attorney than if he’d stayed in private practice.

“You’re no longer the revenue-generating part of the practice, you’re part of the overhead and have to prove and demonstrate your strategic value,” he said. “Some refer to in-house attorneys as the ‘business prevention department,’ but we don’t want to be an impediment. We want to work with our business people and help them succeed.”

Schiesser is a new board member of the Indiana chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel this year, and his colleagues there say he’s been an asset to the organization and his experience with Simon brings a valuable perspective for other in-house attorneys.

Mark Clark, general counsel at Finish Line and chapter vice president, says the group’s mix of fun and educational seminars give members a chance to interact with those attorneys like Schiesser, who might see a variety of issues statewide and nationally from a multi-lawyer legal department perspective and be able to communicate with small or solo in-house counsel about those matters. Schiesser agreed with that, and said he enjoys the opportunity to serve in that capacity.

Aside from his legal community work, Schiesser stays active as a mentor in the community to young girls and boys. He continues working with the Dollars for Scholars program and has been a Big Brother for almost 10 years, as well as staying involved in other community initiatives and his church.

“It’s always good to give back,” he said. “I have a soft spot for people working through their own challenges, and think it’s important that they have that same kind of opportunity that I did. People in this profession, sometimes we forget or lose sight of that. But you never know the impact you may have on someone else’s life, no matter how small or short the interaction is.”•

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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