The Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers Awards

John C. Peterson

The Robert L. Habush Trial Lawyer of the Year Award


The Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers (WATL) named John C. Peterson the Robert L. Habush Trial Lawyer of the Year.  Attorney Peterson received the award at the Presidents’ Reception and Dinner on Friday, November 30, 2001 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Incoming WATL President Keith R. Clifford (Madison) and Outgoing WATL President M. Angela Dentice (Milwaukee) hosted the event.

Peterson is a partner in the law firm of Robinson, Peterson, Berk & Cross, S.C., in Appleton, Wisconsin.  He received his law degree from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis and his undergraduate degree at Lawrence University.  The National Board of Trial Advocacy certified him as a Civil Trial Specialist in 1990.

Peterson served as President of WATL in 1995 and currently chairs WATL’s Legislative Committee.  He regularly serves as a faculty member for seminars on topics related to civil litigation. He also serves on the Boards for Trial Lawyers for Public Justice and the Wisconsin Civil Liberties Union.

Peterson lives in Appleton with his wife, Dr. Martha K. Hemwall and has two adult daughters, Maren and Emily.

Peterson was nominated for his work representing clients whose Neenah home was mistakenly entered and searched while drug unit officers held family members at gunpoint.  After the municipalities were held responsible for the acts of the officers, new policies were instituted to prevent these violations.

Peterson was one of three finalists for the award.  The other finalists were attorneys Merrick R. Domnitz of Milwaukee and Thomas K. Guelzow of Eau Claire.

Outgoing WATL President, M. Angela Dentice declared, “Choosing the recipient of the award was a very difficult decision because the finalists are tremendous advocates for their clients and staunch defenders of the right to trial by jury.  Each finalist has given endless amounts of his time and effort to the success of WATL.  They serve as inspiring models for us all.”

Peterson received the award for his compassion and commitment on behalf of injured consumers.  He was nominated by Mary Taylor Lokensgard of his law firm who wrote, “The quote attributed to Winston Churchill that hangs on John Peterson’s office window aptly describes his dedication to advancing the goals of the civil justice system and the rights of injured consumers:  ‘Never, never, never, never give up.’  He is an advocate for injured citizens outside as well as inside the courtroom, integrating the fight for individuals with the fight to bring justice to the community. His dedication to his clients, consumers, the profession, the civil justice system, and his family sets an example that should be held up as a model for all of us.”

Peterson was humbled upon receiving the award, explaining that he felt the other nominees, Domnitz and Guelzow, should be up there with him standing shoulder-to-shoulder.  He expressed his great honor in receiving an award named for Robert Habush. He thanked members of the Academy for this recognition and particularly thanked his wife Marty, to whom he dedicated the award.

WATL is the largest voluntary statewide bar organization in Wisconsin with over 1,000 members.  Members of the Academy are attorneys who represent consumers seeking to hold wrongdoers accountable for injuries arising from accidents, malpractice or unsafe products. 

The Academy’s principle objectives are to promote continuing legal education for the betterment of the trial bar profession; and to preserve Wisconsin’s civil justice system by working with the state legislature and other governmental bodies, as an advocate for the legal rights of all Wisconsin citizens.

WATL established the Robert L. Habush Trial Lawyer of the Year Award to recognize a trial lawyer who has made contributions to the trial bar by handling a case involving a significant change in the law or a precedent-setting suit, or by donating time on a committee or project that benefited injured consumers.  WATL named the award after Robert L. Habush for his years of dedication and commitment to the fight for the rights of accident victims nationwide and for the tremendous time and energy he has devoted to WATL.  Mr. Habush has served WATL in many capacities, twice being president (1968-69 and 1971-72) and for ten years chairing the Legislative Committee.  He also served as president of the national Association of Trial Lawyers of America from 1986-87.

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