From left, immediate Past-president Jill Kastner, incoming president Cheryl Daniels, outgoing President Kathy Brost, and former State Bar President Michelle Behnke.
June 10, 2021 – Cheryl Furstace Daniels has spent her entire career as a government lawyer, and now she’ll spend the next year governing the State Bar of Wisconsin. Daniels was sworn-in yesterday evening as the State Bar’s 66th president.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Annette Ziegler gave remarks before administering the oath of office. Former State Bar President Michelle Behnke (2004-05) emceed the virtual event, and Daniels’ husband Michael Rosenberg also spoke.
Daniels officially begins her term on July 1. Chief Justice Ziegler noted that Daniels is part of history in the making for women leaders. Daniels is the third consecutive woman to be elected president, and President-elect Margaret Hickey will be the fourth.
As of July 1, women will hold all State Bar elected officer positions. Outgoing State Bar President Kathy Brost will serve as immediate past-president, and the board chair, secretary, and treasurer are all women.
Cheryl Daniels (right) with Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, who adminsistered the oath of office.
In addition, starting July 1, a majority of the 52 seats on the State Bar’s Board of Governors, the organization’s policy making body, will be occupied by women.
At the same time, women occupy six of seven seats on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the highest percentage of any state supreme court in the country.
“This is truly a remarkable time indeed,” the Chief Justice Ziegler said. “This is an exciting time in Wisconsin, and we should be very proud.”
Leading From Experience
Daniels, longtime legal counsel at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, thanked outgoing President Kathy Brost for her leadership during a difficult pandemic year, and vowed to keep the State Bar moving forward.
A 1985 graduate of U.W. Law School, Deniels dedicated her remarks to those who lost loved ones during this past year to the ravages of COVID-19 and other causes.
Daniels is sworn-in.
She spoke personally about losing a loved one, Charlie Lawson, who “embodies all the triumphs and tragedies that we see and assist our clients with every day as lawyers.”
She spoke of Ken Bradshaw, her brother-in-law, a Marine veteran who lost his COVID-19 battle. He had a troubled history with the law but worked hard to better himself.
“Ken is a reminder to me that we desperately need to figure out a justice system that will work better to keep all people moving forward, and not stop so many in their tracks, wasting so many of the gifts each person brings to this world,” Daniels said.
“For each of you with your own losses, stories, and legacies of people you love, they are a stark reminder of what I believe,” Daniels said.
“There is never a ‘return’ but only that we must go forward, forging a new path, different than our expectations only a short time ago, but knowing there is no other way.”
Daniels said she will move forward with benefit of history, including a family that has shaped who she is, and will instruct the way she approaches her presidential year.
Daniels speaks at the podium.
Her grandparents, immigrants from Italy, Germany, and Lebanon, lived through World War II and the flu pandemic of 1918. Her father died when she was young, and the family moved to Buffalo to be closer to extended family.
“Forward for me as an attorney began young, as my dad had colorfully told me that my talkative ways meant that I was destined to be a lawyer,” she said. Daniels talked of family and friends, her support system growing up and in college at SUNY-Buffalo.
“These are all people I love and cherish to this day and being given effective confidence from those around me was a gift from all of them,” she said.
“It helps me believe, too, that the State Bar’s promotion and facilitation of professional and peer mentorship to build effective confidence as a lawyer is equally important.”
She noted her first husband, the late Chris Daniels, who she met in law school and worked at what is now the Dewitt LLP law firm.
“So what did forward mean with Chris that I bring to my leadership today? It meant getting an understanding of, and respect, for the pressures of private practice work, the billable hour, and the growth of firm mergers,” Daniels said.
Behind the scenes stream of passing of the gavel with Judge Gary Sherman, former State Bar President,.
“It meant living the balance with two working professionals and young children, working to be family partners, while each has professional and community responsibilities.
“And too, suddenly dealing with the wrenching loss when he died and having to call on every bit of my mother’s model for me, as a single working parent, to move the children and me forward,” Daniels said. “If any of this resonates with you, my colleagues, I truly want to listen and understand how you believe we move forward together.”
Daniels also talked about the lessons she has learned from her three children, and her current husband, Michael, a former products liability litigation attorney who made a career change to work at the nonprofit law firm, Community Justice Inc. in Madison.
Her husband, she said, “taught me how someone takes a previous career and uses his strengths in excellent writing, working with parties in need, and lawyer experience to fashion a new career.”
Daniels also discussed lessons learned from extended family, and from the exchange students she has hosted from all over the world. They gave her “new perspectives on the everyday life we live here in the U.S. to issues of profound importance in the world.”
The Year Ahead
Daniels, a former president of the Wisconsin Law Foundation, said we are at a “when there are nine moment,” referencing the words of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
State Bar President Kathy Brost introduces Daniels.
“For the first time in its more than 140 year history, the State Bar of Wisconsin will be led by an all-women team, who bring diversity of practice, experience, geography, and thinking to bear on the issues facing the bar,” she said.
She highlighted her cabinet for the next year: Kathy Brost (past president), Margaret Hickey (president-elect), Kristen Hardy (secretary), Elizabeth Reeths (treasurer), Theresa McDowell (chairperson of the board), and other appointed volunteers.
“What an incredibly talented group of lawyers to lead with me as we move forward,” Daniels said. “But I also say clearly that we want and need all members’ voices to be heard and all members to participate in the State Bar.
“As we grapple with all the ways segregation by race, socio-economics, neighborhoods, schools, our thinking and how we use our media, affects the law, legal system, and justice for all, I truly want to listen to you, my colleagues, and understand how you believe we move forward together.”
Daniels aims to implement, in an integrated manner, current priorities and those that have come out of the pandemic. Those include:
· Supporting and enhancing CLE on diversity, equity and inclusion, and promoting the Diversity Counsel and Clerkship programs, along with other programmatic ideas, under the Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee.
· Working to implement the recommendations of the Greater Wisconsin Task Force, which just completed its work examining the issue of keeping access to legal services for all persons throughout Wisconsin, as our population of attorneys are aging and shrinking in many areas of the state.
Passing the gavel to Daniels.
· Completing the work of the Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being and working to implement the recommendations to ensure that mental, physical, and emotional well-being are all integral parts of how each of us maintains our professional responsibilities as lawyers.
“I believe all of these priorities do not stand separately, as the state’s legal profession will only be able to move forward if our membership reflects the growing diverse population and is mental, physically, and emotionally ready to take on the legal services needs of the residents throughout the state of Wisconsin,” Daniels said.
She also said the State Bar will be working closely with the Wisconsin Supreme Court to examine practices born out of necessity from the pandemic, such as court appearances by videoconference and other technology tools.
Highlighting her own leadership and professional experience – including Wisconsin Law Foundation president and 35 years with the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection – Daniels said she is ready to lead the State Bar forward.
Michael Rosenberg, husband of Cheryl Daniels, with some kind words about her.
“I want to put all of that experience to good use as the State Bar works to promote a legislative agenda for the betterment of the state’s legal and judicial system,” she said.
“I also want to work with all legislators, as well as with tribal and local governments and their attorneys, and all of you, to work for passage of expungement reform, desperately needed better broadband access, policing reforms, and fair budgets for all areas of the judicial system, just to name a few of the most important issues.”
She noted the State Bar’s mission: to support its members in a dynamic and diverse society in delivering valued professional services, promoting access to justice and pursuing professional excellence.
Daniels said the integrated bar “needs to work on these integrated priorities of diversity, equity and inclusion for the wellbeing of all its members to serve all residents of the state of Wisconsin, as we figure out how we move forward out of the pandemic.”
“For our colleagues, our clients, our court system, our communities, our citizens, our cherished ones and ourselves, let us take the best of our skills to civilly debate and deliberate together, and figure out the actions we will take to move forward the administration of justice in Wisconsin, in 2021 and beyond,” Daniels said.