Kevin Lonergan

Awarded

the 2014 Robert L. Habush Trial Lawyer of the Year

Kevin Lonergan had an outstanding professional year in 2014. But in what may have been a professional and personal benchmark, it was being nominated and presented the Robert L. Habush Trial Lawyer of the Year Award by his daughters, and fellow attorneys, Kristen and Emily Lonergan, that made it so memorable.

“As proud as I was to be named Trial Lawyer of the Year,” said Lonergan, “when Chris (Stombaugh) introduced my daughters I was taken aback because I wasn’t expecting it.  What was already an emotional moment became even more so as they made the introduction.  It’s a night I will never forget.”

The nominating letter the daughters wrote spoke volumes about a special level of respect for their father Kevin, as a fellow trial lawyer.

“…one good verdict in a year, one successful argument before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, or one act of service to our profession...would make us feel like a champion of justice…but to achieve all three in one year…that is something great.”

Indeed.

One of Lonergan's proudest accomplishments of the year came this past March. Lonergan's client was horribly injured in a car accident while he was out of prison on parole. However, his client had technically violated parole by being in the accident-vehicle and, as a result, was sent back to prison. "The accident wasn't his fault, he was an invited passenger, he wouldn't get the medical care he needed behind bars, and still the system insisted on locking him up," said Lonergan.

Even before an overwhelmingly favorable jury verdict came back, the client hugged Lonergan and told him, "anytime, anywhere, for any reason, if you need me, I'll be there." In that moment, Lonergan was reminded why he chose to practice law and why trial lawyers are so vital to our legal system. Lonergan also won another significant jury trial in a case where insurance companies tried to deny coverage to parents of their 18-year old son who was killed in an accident.

“Even as a boy I loved to debate issues,” said the Appleton lawyer. “But I always argued from a positive perspective and that has carried over into my career. We are here to fight for our clients when they need us most.” Lonergan says trial work has been especially rewarding because he’s had the chance to represent people who have, “felt the effects of prejudice, been beaten down in life, and then had the chance to overcome those obstacles.”

As Kristen and Emily explained, “…what mattered most to Kevin was a person who was rough around the edges and in a difficult spot…came for help. He was able to help him achieve justice through the twelve people who believed in him and recognized his pain and struggles. {He} always taught us…”This is why we do what we do!” What a great example for us as young lawyers, and for our entire community of trial lawyers.”

Lonergan was also part of a legal team that worked tirelessly for years to ultimately receive a favorable, unanimous decision from the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The issue before the high court involved whether the short-lived Truth-in-Automobile insurance law intended for injured people to be able to access the uninsured and underinsured motorists benefits paid for by the injured party. Lonergan helped to build and develop a dynamic theory in favor of recovery and he successfully argued on behalf of WAJ before the Supreme Court.

Away from the courtroom, Lonergan served for 13 years as the Mock Trial Attorney Coach at Xavier High School in Appleton. Under his leadership, the Xavier team finished in the top five statewide 11 years in a row and was state champion three times in his last five years as coach.  “Giving young people the skills they need to speak effectively in public is empowering,” said Lonergan. A father of four, Lonergan says the mock trial competitions played a role in the decision of Kristen and Emily to pursue their own legal careers as well as more than a dozen other future lawyers.

“Kevin is the epitome of why legal advocacy matters,” said, Chris Stombaugh, the Immediate Past-President of WAJ. “He fights for fairness in the courtroom and then volunteers even more hours helping young people find their career path. As an organization, we could not have a better role model than Kevin Lonergan.”

The award is inscribed with following listing of Kevin’s achievements:  “For his compassionate commitment to advocating for injured consumers, earning justice for clients at trial and before the Wisconsin Supreme Court; and for his years of dedication to inspiring future generations of trial lawyers, coaching high school mock trial and serving as Chair of the 2014 National High School Mock Trial Tournament.”

A graduate of the US Air Force Academy, Lonergan attended the UW Law School. He started practicing law as an Assistant District Attorney in Eau Claire County, and was briefly in private practice in LaCrosse before joining Herling Clark. Lonergan has been named a “Super Lawyer” every year the award has been given. He is a past president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice and for the last two years served as the Chair for the State Bar’s Public Education Committee. Lonergan was also the 2014 Chair for the Mock Trial National Competition.

The Robert L. Habush Trial Lawyer Of The Year award was created in 2000 to recognize a Wisconsin trial lawyer who has made significant contributions to the trail bar by handling a case involving significant change in the law, a precedent setting suit, or donating time to a project involving injured consumers.

Nominations for the 2015 Robert L. Habush Trial Lawyer of the Year Award will be accepted at the WAJ office until beginning next Spring.  Look for nomination information in the Spring issue of The Verdict.

Our sponsors