Wisconsin Lawyer: Lawyers at Play:

State Bar of Wisconsin

Sign In
    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer

News & Pubs Search


    Lawyers at Play

    "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." So, what would your play activities reveal about you? Here's what we learned about some of your colleagues.

    Dianne Molvig

    Share This:

    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 79, No. 11, November 2006

    Lawyers at Play

    According to Plato, "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." So, what would your play activities reveal about you? Here's what we learned about some of your colleagues.

    by Dianne Molvig

    We asked a few lawyers to tell us about their interests outside of work. Certainly you could discover more about these colleagues if you actually could watch them while they're in the midst of play. Still, here you'll at least get a chance to learn a little about what they do for fun - and why.



    "When you're flying an airplane, you're always two steps ahead of yourself," says Holly Ann Georgell, a senior corporate counsel in Milwaukee. Flying helps to hone her skills as a problem solver, to be more methodical, and to keep problems in perspective.
    Photo: Photografix

    Up in the Air

    Having attained a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, ridden a couple of 500-mile bicycle trips, and skied the Birkebeiner, Holly Ann Georgell was primed for a new adventure. Five years ago, she struck on the idea of learning to fly an airplane.

    Working at the time as a corporate attorney in Chicago, she signed up for 10 lessons at an airfield next to O'Hare International Airport. Recalling her first lesson, "I didn't throw up, get lost, or shake to death," she says, so she considered it a success.

    Georgell, now senior counsel for Veolia ES Solid Waste in Milwaukee, actually had tried flying once before, while she was a student at the U.W. Law School, from which she graduated in 1993. She took one lesson at the U.W. Flying Club and loved it.

    But as a student supporting herself with a part-time law clerk's job, Georgell was forced to stop at one lesson. "I filed it away as a cool adventure," she says.

    Years later, in July 2001, she returned to the challenge of learning to fly. By January 2002 she'd earned her private pilot's license. She's since accumulated numerous additional ratings: instrument flying, commercial pilot, flight instructor, multi-engine flying, glider pilot, and seaplane pilot.

    She's also a licensed aviation dispatcher and a Federal Aviation Administration safety counselor, which means she volunteers to present safety seminars to other pilots. She even wrote a 300-page training manual, which has sold 500 copies, on how to use the Garmin 430 global positioning system, a standard piece of equipment in newer airplanes.

    But Georgell hasn't been racking up ratings and licenses simply for the sake of doing so.

    Each new rating and license enables her to do something she wants to do. The instruments rating, for instance, allows her to fly in clouds, without visible landmarks as guides. With the multi-engine rating, she can fly jets. And a commercial rating allows her to fly for pay.

    The latter came in handy while she was still in Chicago. For a couple of years, she flew over Chicago from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m., twice a week, doing morning traffic reports before heading to her corporate counsel job.

    Georgell still sometimes flies in the morning, now just for fun, before going to work or at the end of the workday, as well as on weekends. Being a pilot and a lawyer interrelates, she says. Flying helps her to hone her skills as a problem solver and to be more methodical. "When you're flying an airplane," she says, "you're always two steps ahead of yourself."

    She also finds that flying gives her a valuable perspective on life down below. "When you're flying," Georgell says, "there are only two things you'd better be thinking about: how to fly that plane, and where you are in relation to the ground and other airplanes in the sky. I have found that when I'm in the air looking out at the sunrise or sunset, problems on the ground just aren't as big a deal."

    In This Corner

    "When you have people standing and cheering for you, it is a thrill. Nobody ever cheered after I won a trial," says Michael Tarnoff (facing camera), a personal injury attorney in Milwaukee.

    In June 2006, Milwaukee attorney Michael Tarnoff took on an opponent in Chicago and won, after which a crowd of about 500 spectators stood and cheered.

    That victory didn't occur in the courtroom; it was in the boxing ring. In the last three years, Tarnoff has fought 10 official boxing bouts - that is, contests that have a referee officiating and result in a decision.

    That win in June brought Tarnoff's overall three-year record to four wins, five losses, and one draw. "My record is mediocre," he says matter-of-factly, although it should be noted that three of those five losses were to fighters half his age.

    In the Chicago match, Tarnoff, 69, faced off against a 63-year-old man, a dentist by profession. "The crowd recognized that we were a couple of old guys," he says. "We gave them a good fight. So the crowd gave us a standing ovation."

    Tarnoff, a personal injury attorney, traces his passion for boxing back to his childhood. While growing up in Milwaukee, he joined his father and uncle in listening to Friday night fights on the radio, and sometimes his dad took him to watch fights. At about age 18, Tarnoff tried boxing himself, and he participated in intramural boxing while a Marquette University student.

    But he abandoned boxing as a young man, although he's always remained a fan who loves to watch the sport. For more than 40 years, he didn't put on the gloves.

    That all changed in 2003, when Tarnoff stumbled on an article in the Wall Street Journal about Gleason's Gym, a famous boxing club in Brooklyn, N.Y. The article reported that once a month, Gleason's held "white-collar boxing" bouts for people with day jobs as lawyers, Wall Street brokers, corporate managers, and so on.

    "These were people who mostly shuffled papers and talked for a living," Tarnoff says. "They were looking for something with a little action. I noticed a lot of the guys were in their 50s and 60s. I thought if they can do it, I can do it. I've always stayed in pretty good shape."

    Tarnoff called the owner of Gleason's to ask if he could arrange a bout for Tarnoff with a fighter of comparable ability. After getting a nod from the owner, Tarnoff began an intense workout regimen to get back in boxing shape. "I arranged for a one-on-one trainer," he says. "I had only three or four weeks to get ready."

    Thus began "my so-called comeback," he says. He fought his first bout at Gleason's in August 2003 and has had nine more bouts since then at Gleason's and in upstate New York, London, Chicago, and Milwaukee.

    Physical conditioning is part of the attraction boxing holds for Tarnoff. And then there's the excitement of the crowds and the thrill of the fight. "When you have people standing and cheering for you, it is a thrill," he notes. "Nobody ever cheered after I won a trial."

    The Play's the Thing

    People often ask attorney Ron Kaminski how he finds time to be so active in community theater, to say nothing of all his other community involvements in Manitowoc, the town where he was born. "My answer is that I don't play golf," Kaminski says. "I'm painting sets instead."

    Ron Kaminski

    Ron Kaminski, a general practitioner in Manitowoc, posing in his Little Sandwich Theatre, says getting an audience to believe in a character "is like talking to a jury, in a way."

    Photo courtesy Herald Times Reporter (Manitowoc, Wis.)

    Plus he's acting in, directing, and producing plays at the theater he owns, the Little Sandwich Theatre, located in the Historic Forst Inn in Tisch Mills, halfway between Manitowoc and Green Bay.

    Kaminski caught the theater bug after graduating from the U.W. Law School and returning to Manitowoc in 1969 to set up a general law practice. As a frequent playgoer, he thought he'd like to try his hand at acting. Soon he was in a string of productions with a local group, the Masquers.

    He also owned a jazz club in Manitowoc, called The Sting, where he and his theater friends gathered after performances. "When it was about two in the morning," Kaminski recalls, "and we'd had enough beer, we started talking about doing some one-act plays" that would demand fewer rehearsals and other time commitments.

    They decided to put their plan into action at The Sting, presenting one-act plays, with a $2 admission. That was the birth of the Little Sandwich Theatre in 1982. The Sting was cramped quarters for putting on a play, as it held only about 25 people.

    To exit the stage, actors ducked into the kitchen. "We'd run outside through the back door of the kitchen," Kaminski says, "and then in through the side fire door to come back on stage. In the wintertime, we'd have snow on our feet."

    The productions grew in popularity, and the theater needed a larger venue. Kaminski bought the Forst Inn and spent eight months renovating it with his son and some friends. In 1990, the Little Sandwich Theatre moved into its new home, which has a capacity of 85.

    The theater's current season will be Kaminski's last as director and producer. "I had five heart bypasses four-and-a-half years ago," he says. "I've been told I have to start cutting back, so I'm looking to find a successor." He plans, however, to continue acting.

    For Kaminski, one of the big draws of community theater is that "it's a wonderful way to meet people - folks you'd never rub elbows with otherwise," he says.

    What's more, he gets a lot of satisfaction from making whatever character he's portraying truly come alive. "It's very fulfilling to know that you have gotten across what you wanted to get across to people in the audience," Kaminski says. "They're from different walks of life. Some are sophisticated and some unsophisticated. But they all buy into the premise of the play."

    Kaminski notes parallels between his life as a lawyer and his life as an actor. The process of getting an audience to believe in a character, he says, "is like talking to a jury, in a way."

    Mule Train

    Trying to train mules may seem as futile as attempting to herd cats. But Christine Duval-Senty, corporate counsel at Dean Health Plan, Madison, not only has tried mule training, she's succeeded admirably, having won awards in competitions.


    "I was the first one in the country to ride my mule in dressage competition with horses," says Christine Duval-Senty, a corporate counsel in Madison. She entered six events, winning two and placing in the other four.

    Photo: Robyn Adair Cook Photography

    She explains that the old stereotypes about mules are misguided. "Mules are sometimes more difficult to train," she says, "but they're really smart animals. They question everything you do. If they don't think something makes sense, they won't do it. The trick is to try to get a new training element to be the mule's idea."

    Duval-Senty started riding horses at age 4, and she's been riding mules since the early 1990s, when she was a college student. "My parents began raising mules [on their farm near Onalaska] because they wanted to go on these adventurous trail rides all over the country," she says. "If you want to ride in the mountains, you want to be on a mule."

    Over the years her family has gathered with friends and their mules to ride in the Rockies, Monument Valley, the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, and the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. "We've ridden in areas where we've seen dead horses in the ravines that have fallen off the cliff," Duval-Senty says.

    Riding mules in back country is one of her passions; the other is competing. She's been entering competitions since the early 1990s. But 2004 was "my big competition year," she says. She had a baby in December 2005, so she's taken a couple of years off from competing, planning to get back to it in 2007.

    She had two major goals for 2004. One was to compete in the World Champion Mule Show in Oklahoma City. She entered her mule, Pass the Buck, or Buck as she calls him for short, in six events. They snagged first place in four events and placed third in the other two.

    Also in 2004, she and Buck entered a U.S. Dressage Federation Horse Show near Chicago. Dressage, Duval-Senty explains, involves following a particular pattern while riding, during which you earn points for elements. "The easiest thing to compare it to is figure skating," she says. "Everybody follows the same pattern, and then you're scored on how well you do."

    Dressage "is very classical," Duval-Senty notes, and the U.S. Dressage Federation long has banned mules from dressage shows. The federation lifted that ban in April 2004, and Duval-Senty jumped at the chance to enter with Buck.

    "I was the first one in the country to ride my mule in dressage competition with horses," she says. She and Buck, the lone mule in the show, were up against about 150 horses. They entered six events, won two of them, and placed in the other four.

    Hundreds of onlookers crowded the arena to watch Buck and Duval-Senty go through the patterns, most of them amazed that "not only could we do it," she notes, "but we could do it well."

    On the Air

    Sometimes, if we're fortunate, our fantasies do metamorphose into reality. Such was the case for Milwaukee attorney Christopher Stawski. For the last two-plus years, he's blended his love of jazz with his fascination for radio.


    Christopher Stawski hosts the weekly "Dr. Sushi's Free Jazz Barbeque" on 91.7 FM WMSE-Milwaukee. "I'm probably one of the few DJs … who's sitting in the studio dictating while playing music," says Stawski, a plaintiffs' personal injury lawyer in Milwaukee.

    Since February 2004, Stawski, whose law practice focuses on plaintiffs' personal injury law, has had a weekly gig hosting "Dr. Sushi's Free Jazz Barbeque" every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to noon on 91.7 FM WMSE, Milwaukee.

    The "Dr. Sushi" moniker is a revival of a pseudonym under which Stawski wrote for a school newspaper while at Marquette University Law School. When friends learned he was becoming a radio personality, they suggested he revive Dr. Sushi.

    Stawski's love of jazz dates back to his pre-teens, when he discovered jazz guitarist Jeff Beck's album, "Blow by Blow." From there, "I went back in time and started listening to all the big jazz people," he says. "The more I listened, the more I liked it."

    Thus began a love of jazz music and jazz history that's spanned more than three decades. A few years ago, a friend introduced Stawski to Tom Crawford, station manager at WMSE and another jazz buff. The two hit it off, and a few months later Crawford called Stawski to say he had a weekly free jazz show that needed a DJ. Would he be interested?

    Stawski's response was "an immediate, 'When do I start?'" he reports. "It was like a dream come true for me."

    Now, every Tuesday morning, he goes down to the station to do his three-hour show. "A lot of the tunes I play are anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes long," Stawski says. "So I take my Dictaphone with me. I'm probably one of the few DJs, if not the only one, who's sitting in the studio dictating while playing music."

    If a court date or business travel conflicts with his airtime, he tapes the show ahead. He plays only free jazz, although his own taste in jazz runs the full gamut. He notes that free jazz is an acquired taste.

    "Even a lot of hardcore jazz fans don't care for this genre," Stawski says. "It's way out there. To a lot of people it sounds like a bunch of noise. It's not melodic, and it's very improvisational."

    Interestingly enough, he adds, people frequently grow to like it once they hear it live. At a free jazz live performance, people "are sitting there with their mouths hanging open," Stawski says, as they watch and listen to what the musicians are doing.

    Another way he's helping this kind of music gain a wider audience is through a nonprofit group he formed, the Milwaukee Free Jazz Society, which sponsors several concerts each year.

    "I truly believe that free jazz is going to explode one of these days," Stawski contends. "It will happen when a character in a movie likes free jazz, and it plays in the movie. People will say, `Wow. What is that?'"

    Bringing History to Life

    The people who work with Milwaukee patent attorney Gary Essmann always can tell when he's about to indulge in his favorite avocation. "I stop shaving," Essmann says.

    Gary Essmann

    Participants in a Civil War encampment try to stay fully in character, explains Gary Essmann, a Milwaukee patent attorney. “We don’t ask each other what we do in real life, because for that weekend, this is who we are.”

    That's a sure sign he's preparing to take on the persona of a Civil War soldier and spend a weekend in an encampment. Essmann explains there are two types of events: reenactments and encampments. In the former, participants actually reenact a specific battle. "There are organized units on both sides," Essmann says, "and the battle is scripted and choreographed."

    In an encampment, which is what Essmann likes to do, the soldiers are in camp, in uniform, ready to explain who they are, what battles they've fought in, and so on. "You mingle with the spectators," he says, "You talk with them about the period of history you're representing and what your character was all about."

    Essmann appears as either one of two characters. For the Union Army, he's Colonel William Gamble from Illinois, who served in the 3rd Indiana and the 12th New York cavalry units. When he switches to the Confederate side, he's Captain Ben Winfield, a cavalry officer with the 13th Virginia unit.

    Both Gamble and Winfield were real people who Essmann has researched and fleshed out their characters. In fact, in the case of Colonel Gamble, "If I grow the facial hair correctly," he says, "there's some resemblance."

    How did he come to be both a Union and a Confederate officer? It's a matter of meeting a need, Essmann says. He only goes to encampments in Wisconsin, where participants showing up as Confederate soldiers often are outnumbered by a wide margin.

    "Typically soldiers from the North and South do not commingle during the encampment," Essmann explains. "So I usually go the day before to see how many they're going to have for each side." Once he sees what each side has, he decides who he will be during the encampment, and he'll don the blue or the gray accordingly.

    "You try to be authentic down to the last detail," he points out. "You don't wear a watch. Sometimes it's annoying to see infantrymen in uniform who are wearing Nike tennis shoes. You almost want to suggest it would be better if they were just barefoot."

    The uniform is only part of it, however. Participants try to stay fully in character during the encampment. "We don't ask each other what we do in real life," Essmann notes, "because for that weekend, this is who we are."

    Being in an encampment is part teaching, part acting. "You have to have a little bit of kid in you to want to play dress-up," Essmann says.

    Besides the encampments, he also puts on his uniform from time to time to visit local schools. Whether he's in an encampment or a classroom, "I get a kick out of the kids," Essmann says, "and the questions they ask. I try to get them to learn a little bit about our history."

    Two for the Road

    Angela and 
Jeff Bartell

    Angela and Jeff Bartell, realizing an old dream, recently bought matching Yamaha V Star Classic motorcycles and took off on a journey around northern Lake Michigan. Angela, a Dane County judge, and Jeff, a Madison corporate and securities law practitioner, will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro next year – without cycles.

    This summer, with their five children well into adulthood, the Bartells acted on their old dream. "I got the urge to ride again," says Jeff Bartell, a Madison attorney, who practices corporate and securities law. He notes that both he and his wife had small motorcycles in their college days, but neither had ridden since.

    He told his wife he was signing up for a motorcycle safety course at Madison Area Technical College. On hearing that, she knew she'd want to ride her own cycle, not be just a passenger, so she decided to take the course, too.

    Thus, last fall, the couple bought matching Yamaha V Star Classic motorcycles, acquired helmets and riding gear, and began preparing for a road trip.

    In the first week of August 2006, they and their cycles embarked on an eight-day journey. "We left Madison on a Sunday morning," Jeff says, "and it was just pouring."

    Fortunately, after two hours of rain the skies cleared, and beautiful weather prevailed for eight days. The Bartells took the Badger Ferry across Lake Michigan, rode north along the shore, continued into Michigan's Upper Peninsula to tour for three days, and circled home. They typically covered about 250 miles a day, mostly staying off major highways to better see the countryside.

    "We have radios in our helmets," Angela points out, "so we can talk to one another as we're riding. That makes it easy for one to say to the other, 'Oh, did you see that? Let's go back.'" She adds, however, that, with their audio connection, they felt it wise to institute a "no singing" rule.

    The most daunting part of their journey involved crossing the Mackinac Bridge, which links lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. The bridge is five miles long and 200 feet above water level at midspan.

    "It's high, windy, and sometimes wet," Jeff says. "And it's a grated surface, so on a motorcycle you feel a little like you're driving on ice. There are people stationed up there who will drive your vehicle over if you don't want to do it yourself."

    Many motorists opt to let someone else do the driving. But the Bartells made their own way on their two-wheelers.

    Since returning from their trip, they often take short rides closer to home. As for the next big motorcycle adventure, they're thinking about touring around Lake Superior. "That's a trip we did with the children in a camper many years ago," Angela says.

    They have set no date for that journey. But another trip, not involving motorcycles, is already on their calendars. "Next year," Jeff says, "we're climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro."

    Dianne Molvig operates Access Information Service, a Madison writing and editing service. She is a frequent contributor to area publications.