How did you become interested in water law as a focus of your practice?
I have always been interested in the natural sciences. As a kid I collected rocks, explored local ponds, and had my own “science lab” in my basement. Ironically, during one of the years I was on the high school debate team, the question was whether Congress should adopt a federal clean water act. I then came to U.W.-Madison to major in biology. When I discovered that my lack of aptitude for math was going to hinder a science career, I switched to political science and environmental policy. After undergraduate and graduate degrees, I looked to law school to provide me a specific skill set from which to do environmental policy.
Once I began practicing, several opportunities presented themselves that allowed me to focus on water-law issues, including the chance to write a book on water law for U.W. Extension in 1994. I have continued to be drawn to water issues because despite having a long history in this state, there are still a lot of unresolved and emerging water-law issues that make the practice engaging. Over the years, I have enjoyed working not only with a collegial group of environmental lawyers, but also a number of environmental engineers, hydrogeologists, and scientists who apparently have the math skills I lacked.
Paul G. Kent, Stafford Rosenbaum LLP, Madison
How do you refresh your batteries?
Work can be 24 hours per day, 7 days per week if you allow it to. I try my best to carve out time in the evenings and over the weekends to recharge and put down the computer or smartphone screen.
The problem is that the big screen takes over. Sports have been part of my entire life. It doesn’t matter which sport is on, I’ll watch it instead of other TV shows every time. If I’m not taking kids to ball practice or playing with them in the yard, you can often find me watching football or college basketball. I find baseball extremely boring but will stomach it.
The kids are excited when I go down to the basement to watch the game on the “big screen” so they can finally play down there without a worry – knowing they are safe from any bad dudes, ghosts, or scary monsters with shooter guns that may be hiding to get them since they now have “dad protection.”
Michael C. Maschke, Sensei Enterprises Inc., Fairfax, Va
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What was your funniest or oddest experience in a legal or digital forensic context?
Long ago, a gentleman visited Sensei Enterprises with a most unusual request. He told me that his wife was pregnant and that he knew the child was not his because they hadn’t had a sexual relationship for some time. When he asked his wife to explain how she got pregnant, she told him that aliens had come through her computer and made her pregnant.
He had the computer with him and wanted us to search for the presence of aliens, which would support his wife’s explanation of her pregnancy. He was extremely agitated and pleaded with me to accept the computer.
One of my forensics technologists analyzed it. To no one’s surprise, there was no trace of aliens; however, the computer was a mess in any number of ways. We cleaned things up, updated the computer, and provided some basic cybersecurity. We charged a paltry sum of money.
When he returned to the office, I told him what we had done to the computer – that was all fine with him, but he became agitated again when I told him that we saw no trace of aliens.
He was so distraught, asking me repeatedly, “Are you sure?”
He began crying and I found myself, unaccountably, uttering these words: “We really can’t be sure what happened. It is well known that aliens are very good at hiding traces of their presence.”
That cheered him right up, he thanked me vigorously, and went home to make peace with his wife.
Sharon D. Nelson, Sensei Enterprises Inc., Fairfax, Va
How did you decide to become a lawyer, and what is your best advice for new lawyers?
The idea of being a lawyer was always in the back of my mind. My mom would make offhand comments when I was growing up that I should be an attorney; oddly enough, this happened when we were disagreeing about something. I was not ready to go to law school immediately after receiving my undergraduate degree, so I ended up going to work for an agricultural marketing firm in Madison. While there, I had some wonderful experiences and coworkers, but I realized that I wanted to help people and make a difference in the lives of those in need. At the time, I wanted to be a public defender, so law school came back to the forefront. During a career panel at the start of law school, I met a legal aid attorney and found my calling to work in civil legal aid. I loved the career panels in law school because I am the first and only lawyer in my family (although I received much support and encouragement from my family, especially my Grandpa Lee) and I had no idea what the options really were for attorneys.
My best advice for new lawyers is that you can absolutely do this and you deserve to be here! The biggest thing I think new attorneys might feel is a bit of imposter syndrome. Even if you do not feel like the “typical” attorney, that is more than okay. Each attorney needs to find their own voice and style. We do not come out of law school with every bit of knowledge and experience we will ever need, so be open to learning and growing into the attorney you want to be. You would be surprised how many practicing attorneys want to help and want to mentor new attorneys to help grow the profession. Do not hesitate to reach out!
Megan E. Lee, Wisconsin Judicare Inc., Wausau
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The best part of my job is the relationships I have with my clients. I count many of them as close friends. And this job has given me a privileged place in their lives. I’ve cried with them, and I’ve celebrated with them – and not just over the case’s result. I’ve attended birthday parties and stood up in weddings; I’ve held their hands in the hospital, and I’ve spoken at their funerals.
This job has given me a window into one of life’s deepest realities – namely, everyone (absolutely everyone) is an individual worthy of dignity and respect, and no one can be defined by what they have done on their very worst day. Giving my clients the best representation I can is (in a small way) my contribution to that truth. But the job is so much more than merely representing my clients; it’s walking with them. That is truly the best part of my job.
Joseph A. Bugni, Federal Defender Services of Wisconsin Inc., Madison
If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?
I would choose the power of flight. I grew up a military brat as my father was a career Air Force man. He was a crew chief for an F-104 fighter jet. As a child, I would help the crew prep the plane for the air show and even got to sit in the cockpit. Obviously, that would never be allowed today. I had my heart set on going to the Air Force Academy to fly fighter jets.
During my flight physical, I learned that my vision medically disqualified me. Not to be discouraged, I successfully graduated from a different federal service academy, the United States Merchant Marine Academy. Even though I never got to fly fighter jets, I satisfy my flight desires with sporadic experiences at an iFly skydiving simulator because my wife won’t let me jump out of a perfectly good airplane for real.
John W. Simek, Sensei Enterprises Inc., Fairfax, Va
What was your funniest or oddest experience as a journalist?
The oddest experience I had working as a journalist was driving through a freak spring snowstorm with two psychics, in the course of investigating a 40-year-old cold case.
I put several years in working nights and weekends on that case. It was a robbery, abduction, and murder that happened just outside Edgerton, where I grew up, when I was 13.
I spent hours in local libraries paging through old yearbooks, trying to find faces that matched the composite sketch of the suspects. I also trudged through a dozen junkyards in the area, looking for the pickup truck the suspects drove.
WISC Channel 3000 interviewed me about my investigation. I became obsessed with the case and started having nightmares about it.
At one point, I snuck into a back pew at the funeral of a man the police considered a person of interest, even though the detectives warned me there would be some tough characters there.
But the trip with the psychics was the oddest part of the investigation.
After driving the psychics to the crime scenes and other sites linked to the victim, I took them to a church that had been converted into a coffee shop, to meet members of the victim’s family.
There was a crafts and jewelry show going on in the coffee shop and the place was packed, and noisy. Amid all that hullaballoo, and while this snow squall was whipping against the stained glass windows, we were in there discussing this horrible crime, bonding with each other and weeping. I’ll never forget that.
Jeff M. Brown State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison