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  • InsideTrack
  • July 21, 2021

    50-Year Member: Hector de la Mora, from Prosecutor to Municipal Lawyer

    Hector de la Mora graduated law school in 1971 during the social unrest of the times. Called "Hector the Protector" as a prosecutor, de la Mora went on to a longtime career in municipal law, with his wife as his law partner.

    Joe Forward

    Hector de la Mora

    Hector de la Mora, who celebrates 50 years as a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, with his longtime wife and law partner, Linda de la Mora.

    July 21, 2021 – They used to call him “Hector the Protector” during his days as a Milwaukee County prosecutor. Hector de la Mora, who began his career in the district attorney’s office, remembers his first jury trial in the early 1970s.

    The young prosecutor was doing intake duty writing criminal complaints against arrested individuals when another, more experienced assistant district attorney asked him to come observe his jury trial on a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge.

    The trial was interrupted by a phone call for de la Mora’s colleague. “After taking the call, he came back and slapped me on the back and said, ‘good luck,’” de la Mora recalled. “He said ‘it’s your jury’ and he walked out. That was my first jury trial.”

    Some teenagers had crashed a family party, where they were allowed to remain, but then caused some damage inside the house. The father called the police and ended up getting arrested, charged with disorderly conduct. De la Mora had sympathy for him as a victim after hearing the testimony.

    “Upon the return of a guilty verdict, I asked the judge to grant him clemency,” de la Mora said. “I actually said that. The judge laughed. He knew it was my first trial.” Months later, the same judge laughed again when de la Mora approached the bench. He had an issue with juror No. 9.

    Juror No. 9, de la Mora had learned weeks earlier, had previously enjoyed the excitement of serving on jury duty. “It was my mother-in-law,” de la Mora quipped. “The judge made me go back and make the motion to strike with my explanation. The defense attorney objected!”

    De la Mora, a 50-year member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, has continued to enjoy a fulfilling career as a municipal attorney with his longtime spouse as his law partner.

    A Winding Path

    De la Mora grew up in Gary, Indiana. His father, a steel worker, had little education but was determined to give his son the educational foundation for something different.

    After high school, de la Mora was off to Marquette University. A friend encouraged him to take the Law School Admissions Test and de la Mora did well. He was admitted to U.W. Law School and attended during a time of social unrest and turmoil.

    On Aug. 24, 1970, de la Mora was working as a law clerk at the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office, then located in the Hotel Loraine building in downtown Madison. Working late, he wasn’t aware that Sterling Hall, on campus, had been bombed.

    “I came down the elevator and the doors opened, and there was a security person with his gun drawn,” de la Mora said. “I think it was apprehension that there was going to be some widespread attempt to damage state buildings.”

    “What created some anxiety for myself and my classmates was the fact that we were in our senior year, we were approaching final exam time and the National Guard was on the campus, guarding and blocking a lot of the campus buildings from damage, vandalism, and test takers.”

    De la Mora also did a summer clerkship for the State Public Defender’s (SPD) Office in Milwaukee, which had just been created. But the SPD couldn’t pay him. He worked in the shipping department at Pabst Brewery and stocked shelves at a Kohl’s food store to earn money. But the volunteer criminal law experience came in handy.

    After graduation, de la Mora and his wife Linda were headed to Boston. Linda had a teaching job and Hector had a job lined up at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    At the last minute, plans changed. Milwaukee DA Mike McCann announced openings for assistant district attorneys. Hector was hired as the office’s 17th prosecutor. He made a three-year commitment and knew when it was time to leave.

    “I was driving home with my wife one night and there was something going on,” he said. “It could have been a shooting or someone struck by a vehicle. I couldn’t tell.”

    When they got home, Linda asked if Hector realized what he said when driving by the scene. “Instead of, ‘I hope nobody is hurt’ or ‘I wonder what happened,’ I said ‘I hope they can preserve the chain of evidence.’ At that point, I knew it was time for a change.”

    While he was fulfilling his three-year commitment, District Attorney McCann granted permission for de la Mora to start a part-time civil practice with two other prosecutors, Nikola Kostich and Alexander Sklenarz. They worked on evenings and weekends.

    De la Mora also took a job as the first-ever legal counsel for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a part-time position he held for 40 years. “I convinced them to let me do it part-time because I didn’t want to be isolated on campus, as the only lawyer,” he said.

    Hector de la Mora

    Hector and Linda de la Mora, avid travelers, in New Zealand.

    The Village Attorney

    After completing his three-year commitment as a prosecutor in Milwaukee, de la Mora moved to Waukesha County to focus on building the law firm.

    Joe ForwardJoe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.

    “I was approached by the late Atty. Mark Vetter, who was a trustee in the village of Elm Grove,” de la Mora said. “The first village attorney was retiring and he asked if I was interested. I was selected as the second village attorney for Elm Grove in 1979. I’m still the village attorney there.”

    After that, De la Mora received several other calls, requesting his services as the attorney for the villages of Butler, Hartland, and Lac LaBelle. His municipal law career was launched, and he has been doing it ever since.

    At the same time, Hector’s wife Linda had been earning credits toward her Ph.D. degree in curriculum and instruction when her school district started laying off teachers. “One day, she asked me what I thought about her going to law school,” de la Mora said. “I said ‘great.’”

    Hector provided some studying help as Linda worked her way through Marquette University Law School, graduating in 1984. She received job offer from a large law firm but wanted the flexibility to travel, which she and Hector enjoyed doing.

    They considered forming of forming the law firm of la Mora & de la Mora. “We asked friends what they thought about it and they unanimously thought we were out of our minds,” Hector said. “We did it anyway.

    “We had an agreement that for one week, she would be the first de la Mora in our law firm name and the next week, I would be the first,” Hector joked.

    The firm took on many law clerks and young attorneys, but de la Mora said they would often be lured away by bigger firms. “Then we would hear how well we trained them,” de la Mora said. “It was always a challenge to grow the firm.”  But the duo made it work for many years.

    In 2015, Hector and Linda joined von Briesen & Roper S.C., in Milwaukee. “The best thing is that it provided continuity for our clients,” de la Mora said. “It has been a very fulfilling relationship.

    They both work full-time still but take time to travel. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, they visited Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. They have been planning to go to Iceland this summer.

    Hector says technology has been the biggest change over the years. “In many respects, lawyers have been liberated in regards to where they perform their services,” he said. “But the cost of doing business has not been reduced. It has just shifted.”

    “The system is more convenient, but there is greater vulnerability because of hacking and other cyber threats. I think it’s going to be even more challenging in the future.

    “One thing that has remained constant through, in my opinion, is that law schools still have not exposed lawyers to the financial dynamics of practicing law,” he said.

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