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  • April 03, 2024

    Celebrate these 15 Leaders in the Law

    They are members of the legal community who make a difference – by living a lifetime of service, mentoring others, offering their pro bono services, and going the extra mile. Congratulations to these 15 award recipients, all leaders in the law.
    Member Recognition Celebration collage

    April 3, 2024 – Join the State Bar of Wisconsin in celebrating those who make a difference in the legal profession and in their communities. Recognized by their peers and colleagues, these jurists, lawyers, law students, and legal workers are celebrated for their leadership.

    Since 1993, State Bar members have gathered to honor the contributions of those in Wisconsin’s legal community. These award recipients will be honored in person at the Member Recognition Celebration during the State Bar Annual Meeting & Conference, June 19-21, in Green Bay.

    Join us in celebrating these leaders who are dedicated to improving the practice of law and the administration of justice in Wisconsin and serving their communities:

    James P. Daley: Lifetime Jurist

    Judge James Daley headshotJudge James P. Daley, Rock County Circuit Court (retired), is the 2024 recipient of the Bench and Bar Committee's Lifetime Jurist Award. The award recognizes jurists who, during their tenure on the bench, were fair and impartial, and demonstrated high ideals and personal character along with outstanding, long-term judicial service.

    Bench and Bar Committee members say they are fortunate to be able to consider truly outstanding jurists for this award and are proud to recognize and honor Judge Daley with the Lifetime Jurist award.

    For 2024, Judge Daley is being honored for his leadership in establishing the first regional veterans’ diversion court in Wisconsin, among his many other accomplishments as a judge serving Rock County and Wisconsin.

    His nonjudicial resume is equally remarkable: He served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam and later joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard. He is a decorated war hero, receiving a Bronze Star with “V” for valor, a Purple Heart, and retired from service as a brigadier general.

    “After his decades of service as a jurist in Rock County, he has touched more lives and left more paths to recovery and success than anyone in front of whom I have practiced,” writes one nominator. “Judge Daley has lived a life of exemplary service to others.”

    Cassel Villarreal: Gordon Sinykin Award of Excellence

    Cassel VillarrealCassel Villarreal of Beaver Dam is the recipient of the Wisconsin Law Foundation’s 2023 Gordon Sinykin Award of Excellence. The award recognizes a lawyer, law firm, or group of lawyers for their work on an individual law-related education or public service project.

    A family law attorney and mediator with Derr & Villarreal, LLC, in Beaver Dam, Villarreal has been a coordinator of the Wisconsin High School Mock Trial regional tournament since 2005. Previously, she had assisted the Beaver Dam team and volunteered as a scoring judge, beginning in 2002.

    Villarreal is one of about a dozen volunteers who coordinate the 10 regional mock trial tournaments held around Wisconsin the first weekend of each February. She supervises 30 attorneys who volunteer as tournament judges for the 10 competing teams in the Juneau region.

    “We are proud to honor Cassel, who has volunteered her passion and personal time to the Wisconsin High School Mock Trial program for 22 years. It is volunteers like you who make the program the success it is today,” said Hon. Joseph M. Troy, Wisconsin Law Foundation president.

    Iris M. Christenson: Diversity & Inclusion Trailblazer Award

    Iris M. ChristensonIris Christenson of Madison is this year’s recipient of the Diversity & Inclusion Trailblazer Award. The award, from the Diversity & Inclusion Oversight Committee, celebrates an individual who contributes to and enhances diversity and inclusion within the Wisconsin legal profession.

    In numerous ways throughout her career, Iris has modeled an inclusive practice and promoted diversity and inclusion among her peers and the State Bar of Wisconsin. An active emeritus member of the State Bar, Christenson in her 30-plus year legal career has served and represented hundreds of clients, many of whom were from underrepresented populations, such as racial minorities, women, LGBT individuals, immigrants, and individuals who are elderly or disabled.

    “Iris champions clients who need a voice in a society that often marginalizes them,” says her nominators.

    Now retired, Christenson continues to volunteer for legal services for ethnic and racial minorities through the immigration and refugee program of the Catholic Multicultural Center in Madison. In this program, Iris helps individuals from different countries, such as Syria, Mexico, and Afghanistan, navigate various legal issues.

    Jesse B. Blocher: Charles Dunn Wisconsin Lawyer Author Award

    Jesse B. BlocherPresented by the State Bar Communications Committee, which serves as the editorial board for Wisconsin Lawyer magazine, the Hon. Charles Dunn Author Award recognizes writing excellence in the publication. The award was named in honor of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s first chief justice.

    The 2023 Charles Dunn Award goes to Jesse B. Blocher of Waukesha, author of “The Pugilist’s Guide to Brief Writing,” 96 Wis. Law. 30-34 (May 2023). Says committee members: “The article is engaging, relevant, and applicable to your average practitioner. It is well written and easy to digest, entertaining, and the applicability to many practitioners is big. It was a fan favorite among the nominations!”

    Blocher is a shareholder attorney at Habush, Habush & Rottier S.C., Waukesha, where he focuses on litigating personal injury cases.

    Philomena Kebec: Pro Bono Attorney of the Year

    Philomena KebecPhilomena Kebec of Odanah is the recipient of this year’s Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award. The award, presented by the State Bar’s Legal Assistance Committee, recognizes dedication to the development and delivery of legal services to low-income individuals or those who develop innovative ways to deliver volunteer legal services.

    Kebec is the economic development coordinator for Bad River Band of Lake Superior-Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Odanah, serving her tribe and community in legal and nonlegal capacities.

    She has worked with Judicare Legal Aid for more than seven years, taking pro bono cases on a wide range of family and housing issues. In 2023, she took the most pro bono cases of any Judicare attorney, including a challenging and urgent family case that spanned multiple states involving two children abducted from their home state outside Wisconsin.

    “Philomena takes some of Judicare’s strangest cases with the most desperate clients and far-flung jurisdictions,” say her nominators. “From consultations to full representation in state and tribal courts, she treats her clients with care, compassion, and respect. Kebec is a shining example that Wisconsin attorneys can have more than one passion, use more than one skillset, and serve more than one commitment, including impactful pro bono work.”

    Community Justice Inc.: Pro Bono Firm/Organization of the Year

    Community Justice Inc.Community Justice Inc. of Madison is the recipient of the Pro Bono Firm/Organization of the Year from the State Bar’s Legal Assistance Committee. The award recognizes outstanding pro bono service. Community Justice is a nonprofit organization that provides low-cost and free legal services to all of its clients.

    Community Justice has partnered with Neighborhood House Community Center to establish a free monthly legal aid clinic to meet the legal needs of low and no-income people in Madison.

    The organization’s attorneys work regularly with individuals seeking free legal advice and consultation, for family law, landlord-tenant, small claims, and discrimination issues, and more.

    “There is a great need for the service they offer, and we depend on their assistance to offer this to our community,” says their nominators. “At each clinic, their attorneys are engaged, caring, and respectful to all clients. They are willing to spend time helping people as much as possible, and they are also willing to educate employees at our center about how we can help our community. Through these volunteer efforts, they have helped hundreds of pro se litigants.”

    Judge Molly Gena: Dan Tuchscherer Outstanding Public Interest Law Attorney

    Judge Molly GenaThe 2024 Dan Tuchscherer Outstanding Public Interest Law Attorney is Judge Molly Gena, Milwaukee County Municipal Court. The award, presented by the State Bar Public Interest Law Section, recognizes a lawyer who embodies the elements of the award: demonstrating a lifetime commitment to working in the public interest, a commitment to volunteerism beyond employment responsibilities, and a selfless commitment to helping their community.

    Judge Gena has been a tireless advocate for people in need for her entire career. Before being elected to the bench in 2023, she worked as an attorney for Legal Action of Wisconsin, helping low-income clients recover their driver’s licenses so they could pursue education and find family-sustaining employment.

    In 2019, she became the managing attorney of Legal Action’s Milwaukee office, guiding it through the COVID-19 pandemic. Since being elected to Branch 2 in the Milwaukee Municipal Court, Judge Gena has presided over a courtroom that aims to serve the community in a holistic, respectful, and just manner.

    Liam Coughlan: Ryan Klesh Outstanding Public Interest Legal Worker

    Liam Coughlin headshotLiam Coughlan of Watertown is the posthumous recipient of this year’s Public Interest Law Section’s Ryan Klesh Outstanding Public Interest Legal Worker Award. The award recognizes an individual who captures the essence of the late Ryan Klesh: selflessness, work ethic, kindness, intellect, authenticity, and humor in working to seek justice for low-income neighbors, family, or friends.

    Coughlin worked as a paralegal with Legal Action of Wisconsin’s Harm Reduction Project, which provides civil legal aid to people around Wisconsin impacted by substance use disorders, specifically opioids. His work led to an outreach event with a harm reduction group called the Milwaukee Community Collective, which met weekly on a street corner on the north or south side of Milwaukee to provide harm reduction materials to those that need them.

    Liam Coughlin tragically passed away on Jan. 13, 2024, at the age of 23. During his short career, his hard work, empathy for clients, and passion for justice and advocacy made him not just an indispensable employee, but a good friend and colleague to all who knew him.

    Viet-Hanh Winchell: Nonresident Lawyers Division Founder’s Award

    Viet-Hanh WinchellViet-Hanh Nguyen Winchell of St. Paul, Minnesota, is the recipient of the Nonresident Lawyers Division Founder’s Award for her many years of service to the Nonresident Lawyers Division (NRLD). This award recognizes a nonresident State Bar member who has brought positive change to the division and has actively participated in State Bar activities for many years.

    Winchell has served the State Bar as a president of the Minneapolis alumni chapter. She is a former president of the NRLD Board and served faithfully on the State Bar Board of Governors. While she is no longer serving on the NRLD board, she is representing nonresident lawyers in other volunteer capacities. She has been a governor-appointed member of the Minnesota Commission on Judicial Selection and currently serves as a member of the Advisory Council for the Taubman Safety Project. She is also a running sponsor with I Run 4, a nonprofit organization.

    Winchell owns a Minnesota-based law firm practicing municipal law, personal injury, family law, immigration, probate litigation and estate planning, business law, criminal law, real estate law, and litigation. She was recently appointed to become a district judge in Minnesota.

    Ann Marie Molitor: Government Lawyers Division Grant F. Langley Service Award

    Ann Marie Molitor headshotAnn Marie Molitor is the recipient of the 2024 Grant F. Langley Service Award from the Government Lawyers Division (GLD). The Langley Service Award is presented to an attorney with accomplishments in the legal profession who serves not only the government and citizens, but also other government attorneys. This attorney is someone involved in activities that increase the public’s respect for government lawyers while promoting government legal work as a rewarding career choice.

    Molitor is an administrative law judge for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Dev​elopment Equal Rights Division in Madison. A 1995 graduate of U.W. Law School, she has a long history as a government lawyer, including as assistant corporation counsel for Waukesha County and as a staff attorney at the Labor and Industry Review Commission.

    At the LIRC, she developed particular expertise in several areas of unemployment insurance law, such as independent contractor cases, and she was the primary attorney to handle numerous complex cases for the commission. She is a past president of the GLD.

    Her stellar work as a government attorney, as well as her demonstrated commitment to government and community service all serve to increase the public's respect for government lawyers and to promote government legal work as a rewarding career choice.

    Mary Lynne Donohue: Senior Lawyers Division Leonard L. Loeb Award

    Mary Lynne DonohueMary Lynne Donohue of Sheboygan is the recipient of the 2024 Leonard L. Loeb Award from the Senior Lawyers Division. This award is given to a senior lawyer who has made significant contributions to the legal community, shown respect for the legal system, demonstrated a love for the law and high ideals and personal character, participated in organizations to improve communities, and participated in state and local bar activities.

    Donohue’s service to the State Bar and the legal profession is extensive. She has served as secretary and treasurer and two terms as a district representative on the Board of Governors. She has chaired the Leadership Development Committee, Facilities Committee, and many other State Bar committees. She is a Class of 2002 Fellow of the Wisconsin Law Foundation and served on the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation Board.

    Donohue has demonstrated that commitment locally. In 1990, she was the Sheboygan County Bar Association’s first female president – an event unusual enough to merit an article on the front page of the local paper. For many years she has served as volunteer coordinator with its legal aid clinic, annually recruiting the clinic's 24 volunteers.

    With her colleague, Julie Stodolka, Donohue initiated a separate pro bono project in August 2021, the Renters' Eviction Assistance Program. Working with the Lakeshore Community Action Program, Donohue and Stodolka provided legal assistance to more than 150 low-income renters facing eviction or other landlord-tenant issues in Sheboygan County.

    With the Center for International Legal Studies, Donohue has taught short-term courses in administrative law at universities in Bulgaria, Poland, and Lithuania.

    Apart from her contributions and commitment to the legal profession, Donohue has contributed to local and statewide community organizations including as president of the Sheboygan Area School District's School Board and on the City of Sheboygan's Common Council.

    Nicholas Cerwin: Young Lawyers Division Outstanding Mentor Award

    Nicholas CerwinNicholas Cerwin of West Allis is the recipient of the Young Lawyers Division’s Outstanding Mentor Award. The award pays tribute to a Wisconsin attorney with six or more years of practice who has made an exceptional contribution to the life and career of a young attorney.

    Cerwin is an assistant city attorney for the City of West Allis. A Marquette Law School 2012 graduate, he previously worked as an assistant city attorney for Milwaukee County.

    Cerwin is an outstanding mentor to law student interns and young lawyers who work with him. He leads by example and with patience and support. As a leader, encourages the interns in ways that help them to grow professionally.

    “He is not only a role-model for any young attorney but also a great role-model for anyone looking to become a thoughtful, empathetic, and intentional human being,” writes one nominator. “Working with Nick taught me that being an attorney is all about doing your part to move the scales of justice toward equilibrium in a way that positively impacts your community. To do this, you must give your best effort to your client. Nick serves as a reminder that being an attorney is to be part of an impactful profession. It’s not just a job.”

    Abrielle Newman: Young Lawyers Division Outstanding Young Lawyer Award

    Abrielle NewmanAbrielle Newman of Milwaukee is the 2024 Young Lawyers Division’s Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year. This award is given to young lawyers who make an impact in their practice areas and in service to the State Bar and to their community.

    Newman is the lead staff attorney for Legal Action’s nationally recognized Eviction Defense Project. She supervises both attorney and student volunteers, ensuring that all participants in the project understand the relevant law and how eviction proceedings work in Wisconsin, so they can best serve the project’s clients. Newman also has a caseload of her own, where she defends clients in eviction actions.             

    She is dedicated to serving her clients and the community and is a passionate advocate who is committed to learning and growing.

    Shruti Pandey and Morgan Gulledge: Outstanding Public Interest Law Students

    The Public Interest Law Section honors law students who demonstrate a commitment to public interest work, to volunteer work or activism in their community, and to helping others in their communities. This year, the Outstanding Public Interest Law Students are Shruti Pandey from U.W. Law School (Class of 2025​), and Morgan Gulledge, Marquette Law School (Class of 2024).

    Shruti PandeyShruti has demonstrated a strong commitment to working in the public interest, volunteering with the U.W. Law School’s Eviction Defense Clinic, Legal Action of Wisconsin’s Bankruptcy Clinic, and the Madison Library’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. She also has shown activism in her law school community, where she currently serves as the vice president of public service on the U.W. Law School’s Student Bar Association’s executive board and advocates for increased law student involvement in pro bono opportunities.

    Morgan GulledgeMorgan is a member of the Student Advisory Board for the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinics and co-facilitates a weekly legal clinic at the Milwaukee Justice Center. Morgan became involved with the Marquette’s Public Interest Law Society during her first year as a law student and was co-president in her 2L year. She graduates from Marquette with honors for performing more than 350 hours of pro bono work.

    Join Us at the Annual Meeting & Conference in June in Green Bay​

    Want to celebrate a friend, family member, or colleague being honored at the Member Recognition Celebration? Join us for this free event 5:45 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 20, at the KI Center in Green Bay.

    The celebration takes place at the State Bar Annual Meeting & Conference, June 19-21. Register now to choose from more than 26 CLE sessions covering top trends, hot topics, and enduring advice for today’s lawyers.

    In addition, featured plenary speakers, the Legal Expo, networking luncheons, the Presidential Swearing-in Ceremony, and the Lawyers at Lambeau All-Conference Bash will help you connect, learn, and relax.

    Reserve your spot today!

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