Incoming President's Message
Edward E. Robinson, WAJ President
It is my distinct honor and privilege to serve as the next president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice. I am humbled by the opportunity to serve and help lead this great organization. And a great organization it is. We stand up for civil justice. We stand up for the right to trial by jury. We zealously fight to protect the right to have full and fair access to the courts to seek redress for harms. And we will continue to do so.
Over the past 62 years, our organization has been blessed with great leadership. During periods of turbulent political storms with clouds of anti-civil justice legislation looming overhead, our past leadership has navigated us safely through these troubled seas. At times, we have taken on water and been at risk of capsizing, but the able hands at our helm have kept us afloat. At other times, we have been pushed dangerously close to rocky shores, only to be saved through the skill of our captains. We have no doubt sustained some damage, but not complete and total destruction.
As I begin my stint at the wheel, I acknowledge the great leadership and invaluable contributions of those who came before me. Some of our past presidents are here tonight. I thank you.
I wish to thank Heath Straka, our current president, for his strong, steady and even-keeled leadership during this past year.
This past year, we again faced a major assault on our civil justice system in the form of the most comprehensive overhaul of our state rules of civil procedure since 1976. While we were not able to prevent its passage in its entirety, through Heath’s leadership, we were able to, as Heath has said, “sand down the rough edges” and get some of the most problematic provisions removed. That was no small feat, and required us to knock on doors and reach across political aisles to talk to whomever would let us in their offices at the State Capitol about the “real-world” consequences of the legislation, if passed as written, without change or amendment. I appreciate Heath’s tutelage and example of what fine leadership should be, and I look forward to working with Beverly Wickstrom, our new president-elect, in the same manner over the next year.
We have just come out of a recent election, where a majority of the voters in our state chose a new direction, by electing a democratic governor for the first time in eight years, and a democratic attorney general for the first time in more than a decade. How about that! Perhaps (and I certainly hope) we are in for a period of calmer seas for the first time in many years. However, we will continue to be vigilant in monitoring potential legislation that will impact our core values. We will work with Governor Evers to attempt to prevent the passage of any new legislation that may reach his desk that is inconsistent with our mission.
But we will not just stand on the sidelines and be reactionary. Instead, I look forward to working with my fellow officers and the executive committee during the upcoming year to see if there are ways in which we can find common ground and bipartisan support for the passage of sensible legislation that will further our core principles.
Guaranteeing equal and fair civil justice and the preservation of trial by jury are not, and should not be, partisan values. They are bedrock values upon which our nation and state were founded. They are, or should be, our shared values, regardless of political leanings.
The image of trial lawyers has been tarnished. Through a vast propaganda campaign waged over decades, trial lawyers have been wrongly recast from the champions of the underdog and the torchbearers for equal and fair treatment under the law, into the villains behind much that is wrong in our nation.
In several readers’ polls conducted over the last decade, the fictional lawyer Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird is ranked as one of the most inspiring characters in fiction. In some polls he comes out on top. But we are not held in the same high esteem as Atticus Finch. Fictional lawyers rank higher than actual lawyers in public opinion polls. We just don’t measure up to the fictional ideal of how and what a noble, honorable trial lawyer should be. Instead, trial lawyers have become an all too convenient whipping post.
Who, and where, are our defenders? The defense has been largely left up to us. It has not been a fair fight, and it is a fight we have been losing.
So what can we do?
Some say it is too late to turn back the tide of negative public opinion. Perhaps I am stubborn, but I am not ready to throw in the towel just yet. As I am preparing to begin my fifth decade on the planet, I have been giving a lot of thought to what we can do to improve the public image of trial lawyers. With the realization that I most likely have more years in my rearview mirror than ahead of me, I have also been reflecting on what I can do in my remaining years to live a meaningful life, and to contribute my time and talents toward making a positive difference in the world. While the gratitude of clients that we are privileged to represent and help is rewarding, I, as I suspect many of you, feel a greater calling: a calling to serve others and give back to our community in some meaningful way.
Over the next year, I will be reaching out to you to ask for your help in doing just that: making a difference in our communities. I would like to announce to you tonight that over the next year, WAJ will be partnering with our national sister organization AAJ to form and roll out a Wisconsin chapter of their non-profit charitable organization TLC, which stands for Trial Lawyers Care. I am excited to share more details of this plan with you over the next few weeks.
The great American citizen Muhammad Ali has said that “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” By volunteering our time in doing good deeds and helping others, we can expand the scope of our good work beyond simply helping our clients to also impact our communities in positive ways.
By leading through example in helping to improve our communities, perhaps we, as trial lawyers, can turn back the tide and improve public perception. Certainly, it cannot hurt our public image.
We should not be afraid to wear the badge of being a trial lawyer. We should not treat it as a scarlet letter but rather embrace it and wear it as a badge of honor. Let us all be trial lawyers who care about our communities and serving others, and who demonstrate this not just through words but through our actions.
In closing, I would like to thank my wife and life partner Lee Ann, who serves the community every day as a proud public school teacher in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. The day you said “yes” I became the luckiest guy on the planet. I would also like to thank our two children Connor and Keeley, currently a college freshman and a high school junior, respectively. I cannot wait to see you chase your dreams and have your dreams become reality. I love you all.
I also thank my law partners and colleagues at Cannon & Dunphy, S.C., with whom I spend more time some weeks than my own family. I consider you to be my second family, and I thank you for all of your support and encouragement.
I would like to especially single out Kendra Searing, who I have been privileged to work with for the past 17 years. That is longer than a lot of marriages. And, no, you are not eligible for parole yet. Thanks for putting up with me and trying to keep me from going off of the rails. You’re simply the best.
To Bill Cannon and Pat Dunphy, it is hard to believe that it was just over 30 years ago today, back in September of 1988, when I -- a timid college sophomore attending Marquette University – literally knocked on your door on the top floor of the Reuss Federal Plaza in response to a help wanted ad for a part time file clerk and messenger. It was because of your superlative example of what and how a trial lawyer can and should be that I chose to attend law school and become a lawyer. And here I am now, 30 years later.
Finally, I am honored to have my mom in attendance tonight up here all of the way from the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Thank you for being here. It means so much to me. I love you very much.
Thank you all.