What’s your favorite nonwork activity?
Spending time with my family. Last year was quite challenging, and I learned how important true friends and family can be. My wife Deb is an amazing person, and I learn so much from her. My daughter Megan is 12 years old and she wants to be on American Idol (she is an amazing singer). We play “indoor soccer” in our living room, and she spends hours writing songs and singing to all of us. My stepson Nathan was recently accepted to U.W. – Madison after leading the Oregon High School soccer team to a state championship. I appreciate how important it is to stay close to family and to surround yourself with colleagues who are honest and fair. I am fortunate to have both.
What is your favorite part of Wisconsin?
I was born and raised in Wisconsin and love the state. Even though I went to college in Chicago, law school in New York, and started my practice in Cleveland, I knew that I would want to return.
A great thing about Wisconsin is its variety of lakes, woods, farmland, and cities, but if I had to choose one part of Wisconsin it would be the East Side of Milwaukee and the lakefront. I am an urbanite at heart. I live on the East Side and work downtown. The location is convenient to work and to a wide variety of great restaurants, cultural attractions, and sports events.
I may be biased, but I have found few urban settings in the U.S. as beautiful as Milwaukee’s lakefront. Whether it is bicycling or jogging along the lake, catching a concert at Summerfest, or watching the kites at Veterans Park, the lakefront is my favorite place to be.
Describe your greatest professional accomplishment to date.
Children are the innocent victims of divorce. Protecting them should be a primary responsibility of the family law system.
In Wisconsin, when custody or placement is in dispute, a guardian ad litem is charged with the responsibility of representing the child’s best interests. Children cannot choose their GAL and cannot report to the court if the GAL is not performing the role adequately. When I became chair of the GAL committee for the State Bar Family Law Section, the only requirement to serve as a GAL was to be a lawyer.
My committee proposed a rule that in order to serve as a GAL, a lawyer would need a minimum amount of specialized training. Getting the necessary approval took a substantial amount of work, including two appearances before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. After hitting several road blocks, the late Judge Vivi Dilweg of Brown County joined our efforts, adding the gravitas of the Wisconsin Judicial Council and her own experiences.
The result is SCR Chapter 35. Today, in most instances, in order to serve as a GAL in a family law matter, a lawyer needs to be trained in, among other matters, child development, the effects of family violence, and cultural and socioeconomic issues.
While no rule will ever fully protect children, I am very proud of my role in attempting to minimize the effect of divorce on children.
What U.S. Supreme Court decision impacted your personal life?
Three cases, in fact, had a tremendous influence on my personal life. The first case was Bowers v. Hardwick. Bowers was a 1986 case in which the Court held that the states were permitted to criminalize homosexual intimacy. As a gay man who was interested in studying law, it was a devastating decision. The Court reduced my sexual orientation to a sexual act akin to criminal acts on the scale of prostitution and bestiality.
Fortunately, 17 years later the Court reversed itself in Lawrence v. Texas, and recognized that Bowers failed to recognize the “liberty interest at stake.” The liberty interest being that sexual orientation is not simply conduct but an inherent and intricate part of the person.
The third case occurred this past summer with United States v. Windsor in which the Court held that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages. Within the span of only 10 years, the Court went from criminalizing me to encouraging my relationship with a partner by offering me the protections and benefits of marriage. The Court’s acceptance of me as an equal person under the law has not only made me a better person, but a better lawyer.
Describe your most relaxing (or favorite) vacation.
When I was in the Army and stationed at Ft. Bragg, N.C. in 1972, my wife and I spent several long weekends at Wrightsville Beach, N.C. Both of us are from Milwaukee, and this was our first experience at the ocean. Years later, in celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary, we took our four children back to Wrightsville. It had changed quite a bit since our last visit, but the beach and the ocean remained stunning. We enjoyed it so much, it continued to be a family vacation favorite, in between driving trips to most parts of the United States and Canada, and trips to Europe and the Cayman Islands.
We always drive to North Carolina, and have visited most major zoos, Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields, and national parks along the way. Once there, in addition to timeless, lazy days in the sun, we have experienced the hatching of sea turtles and spectacular lightning storms over the ocean.
Our kids are grown now, but when they are able to do so, they join us, on occasion with their significant others. Soon, we anticipate our group will grow to include spouses and grandchildren. Wrightsville Beach has become more to our family than a favorite vacation destination. We have come to consider it almost as “another home.”