Incoming President’s Message 

Heath Straka

 

To say I’m lucky would be an understatement.  My legal career started when I was fortunate enough to land a job as a clerk under Mike Riley, Lee Atterbury and Mike Luebke by way of a conversation with a high school teacher.  Still a clerk, I followed Luebke who had joined Bob Gingras and John Cates. Fast forward 18 years, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with and now join several other stalwarts of our profession.  I’ve been lucky to be basically with one firm the entire time. I'm a partner at Gingras, Cates & Wachs (formerly Gingras, Cates & Luebke), and have been with a version of the firm since law school.

 

Through my career, I’ve had the great honor of being able to watch some of the finest trial lawyers in the state.  As a result, I’ve been able to try or work on a wide variety of cases; from personal injury and medical malpractice, to bad faith and product liability claims, to complex litigation and class/collective actions involving wage and hour violations.  I’ve been lucky to continue to use my degree in Spanish by representing many members of the Hispanic and Latino communities, and have enjoyed volunteering with the Dane County Bar for non-English speaking legal services. I’ve even been lucky enough to have argued in front of the State Supreme Court on two occasions.  I’m lucky to have a firm that allows me to continue to coach my kids in hockey and soccer.

 

As I begin my Presidency with WAJ, I am lucky to have my family by my side.  I’ve been lucky to have parents (and in-laws) who insisted on a strong work ethic and a wife (Kim) and children (Keaton, Harrison and Mia) who support my career as a trial lawyer.

 

Over the last year, I have been lucky to shadow Ben Wagner as he led WAJ.  Together, we have been able to begin building relationships and to educate legislators on our issues.  For the next year, while the legislative session may be more quiet, I will continue to build on those relationships and continue to try to educate the legislature on the import of our issues.  I will work to ensure that our voices are all heard during the many important elections to come – from the Supreme Court to State-wide legislative races to the Gubernatorial race.

 

I will strive to ensure that WAJ survives, not only next year, but in the decades to come.  To do this, we all need to make sure that WAJ thrives.  We all need to better engage our colleagues in all parts of the State to keep all of Wisconsin active and included.  We need to engage our younger members and recruit those who are not yet members.  We need to engage law students and impress upon them the importance and power of the Seventh Amendment.  We need to encourage our legal staff to join WAJ and to impart their wisdom on all of us on the day-to-day journey with our clients. 

 

Perhaps most importantly, we need to continue to impress upon all citizens of Wisconsin that civil justice is not a partisan issue.  While we have been attacked in the past and will be attacked in the future, we must educate our future jurors and those who vote for our elected officials that our mission is to fight for those who might not otherwise be able to. 

 

I’m lucky to call myself a trial lawyer – born and raised in Wisconsin. 

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