Deconstructing Our Segregated Reality

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Civil Rights, Legal Profession, Marquette Law School, Milwaukee, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law1 Comment on Deconstructing Our Segregated Reality
A map of the city of Milwaukee and surrounding counties illustrating the racial segregation of residents per the 200 census.
Black residential segregation as reflected in 2000 Milwaukee Census

In his commentary on May 24, 2018, Bucks guard Sterling Brown is lucky he wasn’t killed by Milwaukee Police,” Martenzie Johnson casually observes that “Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in America, is one of the worst cities for black Americans, economically, the worst city for African-American children to grow up in and is home to the zip code with the highest incarceration rate in the country.”

I moved to Milwaukee in 1984 to become a Marquette Lawyer.  I took my first law school exam on my 30th birthday – Torts by Professor James Ghiardi.  In May of 1987, like every Marquette lawyer graduating before me and after me, I took the attorney’s oath.  I swore to “support the Constitution of the United States,” the one ordained and established in order to “form a more perfect Union.”  I never left Milwaukee and I am proud to say I am from Milwaukee.  Yet I am at a complete loss of words to describe how it is that we, my law school and my fellow Marquette lawyers, go about our busy daily lives virtually unconscious of living in “one of the most segregated cities in America.”  If you believe you can frame the types of questions that, if answered properly and acted on, will help us deconstruct our segregated Milwaukee, then I strongly encourage you to write and to weigh in now.

In October 2015, I was involved in a three week medical malpractice trial in Outagamie County.  Judge Mark McGinnis was presiding, who is one of the best trial judges currently on the bench.  I came home Friday to rest and prepare for the final week of trial.  A little after 1 am on October 31, 2015 the incessant ring of the telephone pulled me from a deep slumber.  The voice of a woman said, “Mr. Thomsen, we tried for 45 minutes, but we couldn’t save your son.”  My wife, Grace, sitting up asks:  “What did they say?”  “He’s gone.”  “Noooooo…” turned into a mourning howl.  It is unforgettable.  And so it is that in one instant the eye of a category 5 hurricane shreds your bed, your son’s mother, your wife, his sister, his fiancé, his daughter, his uncles, aunts, cousins, grandmothers, friends — my life and theirs too.  Judge McGinnis and defense counsel all agreed to a mistrial if I asked for one.  I returned to finish the trial.  The case had progressed and in a way that could not have been replicated.  The lawyer’s oath is a demanding one.

Yet somehow in the eye of the hurricane you can find love: the love of my son’s fiancé, of my now daughter-in-law Sydney, and my granddaughter, Sienna.  They are proudly biracial.  Sydney is considering law school.  I suggested that she become a Marquette Lawyer.  She said “no” because Milwaukee and Milwaukee County are too segregated.  The truth hurts so much. Continue reading “Deconstructing Our Segregated Reality”

Appellate Work: Getting the Law Right

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, Wisconsin Court System, Wisconsin Law & Legal SystemLeave a comment» on Appellate Work: Getting the Law Right

Recently, I authored a post on this same blog discussing the first of two frequent observations I’ve made since joining the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor and rookie lawyer in February of last year. There, I expressed my belief that we must do more to educate the nonlegal public about what it is we do as lawyers. Here, however, I wish to share what is perhaps as much a personal conclusion as it is an observation—appellate work is where it’s at.

In the last six or so months, I’ve been tasked on several occasions to represent the State before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. These experiences have been enjoyable for several reasons—not the least of which is that I do enjoy writing about the law.

More generally, I have come to prefer legal argument over arguing facts. For these reasons, I expect that my career in the law will naturally gravitate toward appellate work. This is not to say I that I don’t enjoy trying cases to juries, but rather it is acknowledgment of one introspective observation.

As I’ve arrived at this conclusion, I’ve also realized that I’m most interested in getting the law right—regardless of whether doing so helps or hurts any particular position I’ve taken in a case. That said, what I find most appealing about appellate work is that I’ve come to believe that appellate courts generally prioritize getting it right above all else. Continue reading “Appellate Work: Getting the Law Right”

The Need to Educate the Nonlegal Public About Lawyers and the Legal System

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Legal Practice, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System2 Comments on The Need to Educate the Nonlegal Public About Lawyers and the Legal System

Gavel and BenchJust over fourteen months have passed since I first appeared in a Milwaukee County courtroom as a newly minted (Marquette) lawyer. Rolling the clock back another two and a half years, I recall my first few days as a law student. In all, I’m nearly four years into what I hope will be a long and eventful career in the law.

Over these last four years—this last year, in particular—I’ve found myself often making the same two observations. Though I don’t suspect that either of my observations are especially unique, both are surely the product of spending so many of my days in and around our state’s most active courthouse.

The first of these observations is one I began to consider very early on during my time at Marquette: we (society in general, but lawyers and others inside the legal system more specifically) must do more to educate and inform all those individuals who too often lack even the most rudimentary understanding of what it means to be a nation of laws. Continue reading “The Need to Educate the Nonlegal Public About Lawyers and the Legal System”

Loophole in Drunken Driving Law Should be Closed

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Criminal Law & Process, Public, Wisconsin Criminal Law & ProcessLeave a comment» on Loophole in Drunken Driving Law Should be Closed

An ignition interlock device (IID) is a breathalyzer installed in a vehicle that prevents a driver from operating the vehicle until first providing an adequate breath sample. In Wisconsin, an IID is required in one of three circumstances after being convicted of either Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) or Operating with a Prohibited Alcohol Concentration (PAC): the defendant is a repeat drunk driver, the defendant refused a chemical blood or breath test under Wisconsin’s implied consent law, or the defendant is a first time drunk driver and had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15 “at the time of the offense.” Because OWI 1st’s are not crimes in Wisconsin, defense attorneys specializing in OWI cases try to negotiate with prosecutors to stipulate that the defendant’s BAC was 0.149 to avoid the costly and cumbersome IID requirement. This arbitrary threshold creates an obvious loophole.

The state legislature should revise this language in the IID statute because its vague language is leading to ridiculous results in court and does not promote consistency in OWI cases. As a matter of syntax, the statute as its currently written is arguably ambiguous. The legislature specifically used the phrase “at the time of the offense” as opposed to “at the time of driving.” The most common interpretation (and one favored by defense attorneys) is that the word “offense” only encompasses the physical act of driving and nothing after it. However, if that is what the legislature intended, then it would have been clearly to use the word “driving” instead. Further, the current language is in clear conflict with the OWI statute that penalizes drunk driving. A second reasonable interpretation is that “offense” includes everything from the driving to when the police officer issues the citations. However, this reading appears to cast too wide a net. Continue reading “Loophole in Drunken Driving Law Should be Closed”

The Challenges of Being a Bad Lawyer

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Public1 Comment on The Challenges of Being a Bad Lawyer

I know this is technically a blog, but, if it were some other social media platform, that right there, my friends, would be “click bait.”  What?? This guest blogger is going to talk about how difficult it is to be a lousy attorney?  But, no, I don’t mean bad lawyer in the sense of legal incompetency or shaky professional ethics; I mean it in terms of being the bad-guy lawyer, the bearer of the bad news, the lawyer whose job it is to tell the client that he or she is not getting a settlement or can’t win the case or …any number of other unhappy communications.

It turns out that I am conflict averse.  That this was news to me was pretty lame because I chose – at age 49! – to go into litigation after graduating law school. In fact, I chose to join the products liability defense litigation practice group when I joined a Milwaukee firm the September after graduation.  For some reason, I imagined that being a litigator would suit my personality, which, as my husband will confirm, likes to win arguments.  But it turns out I didn’t have a very good sense what litigation entailed: rather than using persuasive argument to prevail on some esoteric, high-minded point, litigation is really more like a bare-knuckled battle royale.  For me anyway, there was just too much…conflict.  And, I was too old for it.  It was exhausting.

When I changed course in my legal career and became general counsel for a national insurance trade association, I thought I’d left my conflict days behind me.  But, another epiphany here (and, yes, I really am getting to be too old for these), there is “conflict” even in a legal profession that is primarily transactional.  Continue reading “The Challenges of Being a Bad Lawyer”

A Reflection upon My Tenth Anniversary of Being a Lawyer

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Marquette Law School, Public1 Comment on A Reflection upon My Tenth Anniversary of Being a Lawyer

Happy 2018!  Since this is my first guest blog, I thought I might introduce myself a bit as a Marquette Lawyer, as the Dean likes to call us.

2018 marks the ten-year anniversary of my graduation from Marquette University Law School, a fact that I am reminded of by the flurry of communications sent by the law school to “Save the Date” for the upcoming tenth reunion in June!  I attended law school as a “non-traditional” student, having graduated from my undergraduate college in 1981. I began as a part-time student, but I switched to full-time for my second and third years once I realized that, if I didn’t goose this along a bit, we would be paying for two children in college on top of my law school tuition!  But, although I started as a part-timer and could have attended the evening classes designed for the part-time students, throughout my tenure at Marquette, I almost always took classes during the day with the more traditional – and by that I mean younger – students.  I did so primarily so I could be home in the evenings with my husband and three children, who were in middle school and early high school.  I wanted to be available for homework and swim meets and choir concerts and school plays and all the other activities attendant to children of that age, and my (then) part-time job was flexible enough for me to attend day classes.

I really enjoyed taking classes with those energetic and earnest 20-somethings, many of whom were in undergraduate colleges and universities just the semester before starting law school.  A story I’ve told often over the years illustrates the age difference between me and my cohort: One of my first semester law school classes was Criminal Law with Professor O’Hear and we were scheduled to take our first midterm exam. I hadn’t taken an exam of any sort since my senior year in college, and I was slightly anxious but, hopefully, prepared.  I sat down in class and turned to my neighboring student, a smart and nice young man named Luke whom I’d sat next to throughout the semester.  I told Luke that I’d realized earlier that morning that it had been 23 years since I’d taken a midterm exam.  Luke’s eyes opened wide, and he exclaimed, “That’s how old I am!”  I laughed (and have enjoyed the memory ever since), but it brought home to me just how long my “pause” had been between college and law school. Continue reading “A Reflection upon My Tenth Anniversary of Being a Lawyer”

“Work-Mom” Balance

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Legal Profession, Public, Uncategorized1 Comment on “Work-Mom” Balance

A young child sits on the floor looking at a copy of the Marquette Lawyer magazine.My husband Brad and I are proud parents of a 20-month-old daughter, Lucille.  Having to balance being a mom and a litigator at a large firm is probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.  But it’s also an accomplishment of which I am very proud, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I don’t pretend to be an expert, and I still have a lot to learn.  But based on the past 20 months, here are some tips that I’ve acquired to support a “work-mom” balance:

It takes a village.  I won’t sugarcoat this:  I’d have to quit my job if it weren’t for my husband and my mom.  My husband works predictable, regular hours and, with rare exception, does not have to work at night or on the weekends.  He is an extremely present dad, is helpful at home, and is very supportive and understanding of my job.  My mom lives 30 miles away and is our go-to babysitter, with little to no notice, particularly when Lucy is sick and has to stay home from daycare.  She watched Lucy twice per week when she was an infant and is the most dependable person in our lives.

Invest in superior daycare, whatever that means for you and your family.  For us, it means that Lucy attends a daycare in downtown Madison, only two blocks away from both my and my husband’s offices.  Continue reading ““Work-Mom” Balance”