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  • WisBar News
    June 16, 2016

    Deisinger Takes Oath as 61st President of the State Bar of Wisconsin

    Fran Deisinger and family

    Newly sworn in State Bar president Fran Deisinger poses with his wife Judy and sons John and Nate.

    Visit the State Bar’s Facebook page for more photos of this event, or click here.

    June 16, 2016 – Last evening, exactly 34 years to the day after Fran Deisinger took the attorney’s oath to become a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, he took the oath to lead the organization as its 61st president, a one-year term beginning July 1.

    In front of family, friends, and colleagues, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack administered the oath as Deisinger vowed to foster high ideals and integrity among the legal profession, promote public education of the legal system, and aid the Wisconsin Supreme Court in improving the administration of justice.

    Deisinger, a shareholder at Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren S.C. in Milwaukee, will employ a wealth of leadership experience both as former president of the Milwaukee Bar Association and Reinhart’s general counsel for more than 15 years.

    Mark Cameli, who served on Reinhart’s board of directors for nine years and introduced Deisinger last evening, said he observed Deisinger conduct his duties as general counsel “with unfailing judgment while simultaneously managing very strong and different personalities, a skill he will undoubtedly use in his new position.”

    Deisinger, who has been with Reinhart for the entirety of his 34-year career, succeeds Ralph Cagle, who becomes immediate past-president. Paul Swanson will also flank Deisinger as the president-elect. All State Bar officer positions begin July 1.

    A Date to Remember

    The date June 15 has great significance for Fran Deisinger, a graduate of U.W. Law School. He was sworn in as a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin on June 15, 1982.

    He was sworn in as the State Bar of Wisconsin’s president on June 15, 2016. Long before these two dates, in 1924, Deisinger’s father, John, was born on June 15.

    “He was a wonderful man – hardworking, kind, and unpretentious,” said Deisinger. “He passed away 10 years ago. I wish he was here.”

    Deisinger also acknowledged his mother, Rosemarie, and his eight siblings. Many of them attended the event. “Most of my brothers and sisters and their spouses are here today, and I am very touched that this group of teachers, nurses, social workers, bankers, and engineers would spend an afternoon surrounded by lawyers,” Deisinger joked.

    He introduced his wife, Judy, and two sons, John and Nate. Then he laid out his plans for the coming year, which includes a search for the State Bar’s next executive director.

    Group of past presidents

    Fourteen past State Bar presidents, with terms dating back to 1981, welcome Fran Deisinger (back row, third from right) as the State Bar's newest president. Front, from left: Greg Conway, Gerald O'Brien, Michelle Behnke, Gary Sherman, and Pat Ballman. Back, from left: Myron LaRowe, Tom Basting, Gerry Mowris, Steve Sorenson, John Skilton, Bob Gagan, Ralph Cagle, Tom Sleik, and Diane Diel. The past-presidents attended the swearing in to help "pass the gavel" to Fran Deisinger.

    Challenges Ahead

    Deisinger noted that the State Bar’s board, earlier in the day, approved a 12-person committee to find a replacement for State Bar Executive Director George Brown, who announced that he will retire on the last day of Deisinger’s term, June 30, 2017.

    “This may be the most important thing we do all year,” Deisinger said. “We are at a challenging moment for the legal profession. The next executive leader will have a lot on his or her plate, and we are determined to find the right person for the job.”

    He noted new competitors, changing attitudes, demographic shifts, technological upheaval, and a shortage of lawyers in Wisconsin’s rural communities.

    These challenges, Deisinger said, require a strong and responsive State Bar that can provide the services and the advocacy that members need now and in the future.

    Fran Deisinger and Pat Roggensack

    Fran Deisinger poses with Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Pat Roggensack, who administered the oath.

    Justice, Independent Judiciary, and Mass Incarceration

    Deisinger also noted his duty to help the Wisconsin Supreme Court in “improving the administration of justice.” Justice, he said, is the key word. Achieving “equal justice under the law,” is an ideal that is hard to reach, and it is always under threat.

    “For one thing, we are in a moment when the tides of political ideology and partisan politics push and pull against the independence of our judiciary, which is a critical guarantor of equal justice,” he said.

    “I look around this room and see many of you I know to be liberal Democrats, and many others I know to be conservative Republicans. But I am confident that underneath those partisan skins are the beating hearts of good lawyers dedicated to equal justice.”

    Deisinger said advancing the cause of an independent judiciary free from political manipulation will continue to be a priority under his leadership.

    Finally, Deisinger noted that he will be convening a commission of volunteers from a broad spectrum of the membership – including judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and academics – to see what the State Bar can do about mass incarceration.

    He noted that Wisconsin’s incarceration rate has exploded in the last 40 years, going from 4,000 in 1980 to about 22,000 in 2010.

    Fran Deisinger poses with extended family

    Fran Deisinger poses with his extended family.

    “There is no doubt that crime deserves punishment and that the public deserves safety,” Deisinger said. “But if we are going to imprison so many, at such extraordinary cost both economically and socially, we had best be sure it is not doing more harm than good.”

    Deisinger said the State Bar must work towards impartial justice, noting that Wisconsin has some of the worst rates of incarceration of minorities in the entire country.

    “It is very hard to square that stark reality with a certainty that here in Wisconsin we are achieving the ideal of equal justice under the law,” he said.

    It’s a complex problem with a myriad of causes, Deisinger noted, many of them far beyond the reach of the legal profession. But he noted that the road to incarceration travels through the justice system, in large part the province of lawyers.

    His commission will “look at what our association can do to make sure that Wisconsin is doing right and doing fairly by all of its citizens when it comes to incarceration.”

    Final words before the work begins: “I am very proud to be a lawyer,” Deisinger said. “I am even prouder to be a Wisconsin lawyer. I look forward to working for you.”

    Visit the State Bar’s Facebook page for more photos of this event, or click here.

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