Building Our Success

WDC Journal Edition: Winter 2010
By: Bryce H. Tolefree, President, Wisconsin Defense Counsel

I would like to begin by expressing how honored I am to serve as the Wisconsin Defense Counsel (“WDC”) President. As I step into my new role, I would like to pay tribute to Cathy Rottier for her exceptional and distinguished leadership as our out-going president.

The civil defense bar was faced with legislative challenges over this past year the likes of which have not seen for quite some time. In response to this challenge, Cathy issued a “Call to Action,” and in doing so, Cathy and the Board marshaled the forces of WDC’s membership to beat back legislation that would have had an adverse impact on our members as well as the citizenry of Wisconsin. As part of this legislative strategy, WDC members called their legislators, testified at legislative committee hearings, and drafted proposition papers that were distributed to key decision makers. In the end, WDC, along with our many partners, succeeded against some very stiff odds. So, for all of her good work, Cathy is to be commended. We would also like to thank all of our members for the time you committed to this cause.

Now, the question is, where do we go from here and how do we build on our success?

One positive by-product from our legislative struggle has been the partnerships we were able to forge with organizations like the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance (“WIA”). During the 2010 legislative session, WDC teamed up with the WIA and other organizations to defeat various pieces of legislation, including attempts to: repeal historic tort reform; limit defendants' rights to conduct independent medical examinations and review plaintiffs’ medical records; and reverse well-established law regarding jury instructions by requiring the court to explain to members of the jury the effect that their decisions on distribution of liability will have on their award of damages.

To offer our thanks, I traveled to Green Lake in September to attend a WIA meeting. During that meeting, we discussed ways to strengthen the partnership between WDC and WIA. It was an excellent opportunity to meet the WIA membership and to chat about ways we can collaborate moving forward. It is my hope that over the next year we will be able to continue to build our coalition with the WIA as well as other organizations with similar interests.

The Wisconsin Legislature is not in session until January 2011. However, during the recess, the WDC Board will be working with our partners to prepare and consider introducing selective legislative proposals that will advance the interests of the civil defense bar. The results of the upcoming elections will certainly dictate how well our proposals will be received. Nevertheless, preparation leads to opportunity, and the WDC Board has already discussed several ideas that we hope to introduce, if feasible, during the next legislative session.

WDC has also jump-started our amicus brief writing committee. This year, we have already filed one amicus brief with the Supreme Court of Wisconsin in a case presently pending before the court, Blue Cross Blue Shield United of Wisconsin v. Casper.[i] The amicus brief was prepared by Cathy Rottier. The purpose of the brief is to urge the court to mitigate the harsh standard currently applied in cases where defendants seek relief on a theory of excusable neglect. Our goal is to continue to look for opportunities where the WDC can have an impact on the outcome of cases important to our members.

We will continue to build upon and strengthen our membership. One of the most impactful ways to attract and retain membership is to offer quality services and benefits. One of the services that we have enhanced is the WDC website. One new feature of our website is the Legal News and Articles Blog, which presents summaries of and commentary on recent cases. You can visit the blog at Much of the material hosted on the blog is provided by member firms that have permitted us to republish items from newsletters and alerts they have already provided to their clients. If an attorney or a firm is interested in contributing items to the blog, whether written specifically for it or already-published, please contact Terrence Berres at

Over the last few years, the WDC Board has worked diligently to revitalize, rebrand, and expand our organization. The best way to effectively accomplish that goal has been to continue faithfully serving the needs of our current membership while diligently working to encourage new and, in particular, young attorneys to join our ranks. Our young lawyers committee has become more active and vital as a result. We will continue to look for ways to support our young lawyers because we believe that the entire legal community benefits from the energy and ideas that these young professionals bring to the table.

Finally, WDC will also continue to offer quality legal educational programming. This year, we will be holding our winter program at the Pewaukee Marriott on December 3, and will offer the ethics credits needed for those of you who are required to report this year. And next year, as is tradition, we will hold our spring conference at the American Club in Kohler on April 28-29, 2011. Finally, the WDC Annual Meeting will take place on August 4-5, 2011, at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells.

To close, I cannot predict all of the challenges we will face over this upcoming year. Nonetheless, I am confident that we at WDC will continue to meet each and every challenge we encounter with the same intellectual veracity and commitment to civil defense that we have demonstrated since the organization's inception.

[i] Consolidated Appeal, Nos. 06-AP-1229, 06-AP2512, 07-AP-369 (Petition for Review granted June 28, 2010).