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  • WisBar News
    January 20, 2016

    A Legendary Law Professor: Remembering James D. Ghiardi

    Mentor, professor, veteran, and former president of the State Bar of Wisconsin, James D. Ghiardi touched many lives as a Wisconsin lawyer and Marquette Law School professor.

    Shannon Green

    James D. Ghiardi, ca. 1970

    James D. Ghiardi, ca. 1969, when he served on the State Bar Executive Committee shortly before becoming president of the State Bar of Wisconsin.

    Jan. 20, 2016 – Called mentor, friend, professor, leader, and even “legendary,” James D. Ghiardi, Milwaukee, passed away Jan. 18, 2016, after a life dedicated to law and teaching.

    Ghiardi, 97, was Professor Emeritus at Marquette Law School. A 1942 graduate of the school, he served in World War II in Europe as an officer in the Army Medical Corps – from 1942 to 1945 with the Third Army under General George Patton – and was a faculty member of the Marquette Law School for nearly 70 years, from 1946 through 1993.

    “Jim Ghiardi was not only an accomplished legal scholar and law teacher at Marquette, he also provided many years of engaged service to the legal profession, including being elected president of the State Bar of Wisconsin.  He was a lawyer’s lawyer and a committed leader of his profession,” said State Bar President Ralph Cagle. 

    Life of Service to the Legal Profession

    Ghiardi served as president of the State Bar of Wisconsin (1970-71) after serving eight years on the State Bar Board of Governors and the Executive Committee, and was the 1986 recipient of the Wisconsin Law Foundation’s Charles L. Goldberg Distinguished Service Award.

    He also served as a delegate to the American Bar Association, was active in the Federation of Insurance and Corporate Counsel, and the Justinian Society of Wisconsin.

    At Marquette, Ghiardi taught first-year torts class as well as insurance law. From 1962 into the 1970s, he served as research director of the Defense Research Institute (DRI), Milwaukee. The DRI, now located in Chicago, is a professional association of lawyers involved in defense of civil litigation. As Marquette faculty, Ghiardi wrote many articles for Marquette Law Review and Faculty Publications on punitive damages, products liability, and torts, among other topics.

    A ‘Legendary’ Professor of Law

    “As I understand it, Professor Ghiardi was the legendary member of the Marquette Law School faculty for more than a generation,” writes Joseph Kearney, Marquette Law School dean and professor, in a recent post remembering Ghiardi on the Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog. “He was unfailingly gracious and supportive to me even before I became dean – indeed, from my earliest days on the faculty. I have been fortunate to count him among my colleagues and friends.”

    Ghiardi, Kearney said, was held in great esteem. “He stood out because of his intellect and his engagement with students,” Kearney said.

    Kearney, who became dean of the school 13 years ago, recalls Ghiardi’s reaction when some questioned Kearney as being too young for the position. It’s now a “famous story:” Ghiardi’s response was simply, “It’s a problem but it won’t last.”

    And the story demonstrates the fact: That a single sentence from Professor Ghiardi could demolish an argument, Kearney said.

    As Kearney recalls in his blog post, the students at Marquette dedicated a 1971 issue of the Marquette Law Review to Ghiardi, whom they called “a man who has excelled in his profession and in his service to the University over a long period of time.” It is the same year – his 25th as a faculty member at the school – in which Ghiardi served as State Bar president.

    In this issue, Robert Boden, dean of the school at the time, notes that Ghiardi was the first full-time law professor to hold that position. Ghiardi, Boden writes, was a student at the school from 1939 to 1942, and returned as faculty to Marquette in 1946 following his military service in World War II. “I first knew him when I was one of 160 terrified freshmen students” in 1949.

    “I have come to respect him as a gentleman and a scholar,” Boden writes. “Few are more zealous in their loyalty to the University and to the profession.... The freshman student entering Marquette soon learns that he is a tough taskmaster, but as quickly appreciates the excellence of the instruction he receives” from Ghiardi.

    Prof. James Ghiardi, ca. 1993

    Prof. James Ghiardi.
    Photo credit: Marquette University Law School

    “No one was or is more associated with the faculty in the estimation of our students and alumni than Professor Ghiardi. He was an extraordinary individual. He commanded the classroom like no one else and inspired students from the first day of torts to the last day of their formal education,” Kearney said.

    Influential Beyond Marquette

    Ghiardi changed the course of more than one lawyer’s life. Jack Kircher – a 1963 Marquette grad – calls Ghiardi his “most favorite teacher” at the school.

    He remembers: “When a student gave an answer or made a statement that was not well thought out, Jim’s usual response was ‘You're kidding!’”

    While Kircher began a career in litigation, Kircher credits Ghiardi with opportunities that pulled Kircher out of the courtroom and into the classroom, all beginning with a phone call in 1966.

    Ghiardi asked him to be his assistant research director at the DRI, located in Milwaukee at the time, when Ghiardi was chief of staff. He took the job, and when Ghiardi became State Bar president in 1970, he asked Kircher to take over teaching his insurance law classes at Marquette. Kircher agreed, while also continuing to work at DRI. Several years later, he would leave DRI to concentrate on teaching at Marquette. Just this month, Kircher retired from teaching at Marquette; his last class, first-year torts, was the first course he took that Ghiardi taught. He said his life in academia is thanks to Ghiardi.

    “My life totally would have been different but for his influence,” Kircher said. Looking back, Kircher says Ghiardi was “mentor, friend, and a second father to me.” From the student-professor relationship at Marquette, the two went on to become professional colleagues and even golf partners.

    Kircher and Ghiardi together truly impacted the tort practice in Wisconsin and across the country, said D. Michael Guerin, State Bar president from 2005-2006, a student of Ghiardi’s at Marquette who graduated in 1974.

    Guerin went on to become friends and colleagues with Ghiardi.

    “Jim was of sharp intellect and dapper in appearance up to the last week of his life. . . . He had a wry sense of humor which is probably why he put up with my snide comments,” said Guerin, also a survivor of Ghiardi’s torts class. “It is not out of turn to mention that a lot of students resented Professor Ghiardi’s approach to the subject area, in part, because he was very demanding. Most of that resentment softened considerably when they got into the practice and reflected that one area where they were well grounded was in the torts area.”

    Kearney concludes his blog post with this comment: “The loss of Jim Ghiardi now diminishes us, but his work and life magnified us – and as a legacy will continue to do so. Requiescat in pace.”

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