President’s Message: The Future Looks Bright for the Wisconsin Defense Counsel

WDC Journal Edition: Summer 2011
By: Bryce H. Tolefree, President, Wisconsin Defense Counsel

It has been an honor and privilege to serve as the President of the Wisconsin Defense Counsel (WDC). As I reflect on my term as President and WDC’s accomplishments, I cannot help but feel a real sense of pride. This has been an incredibly successful and rewarding year for our organization.

When I took over the helm as President, I launched an ambitious and yet what I believed to be a realistic agenda for action. The first order of business was to forge closer ties with various organizations that could help to strengthen our presence in the business community as well as serve as allies during the upcoming legislative session. How did we do? Well, I am pleased to report that we have strengthened our relationship with organizations like the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, the Wisconsin Civil Justice Council, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and other like-minded groups. This is the beginning of a long process and we still have work to do; nonetheless, WDC is well on the road to consummating long-lasting partnerships that should pay dividends in the years to come.

In addition to enhancing our visibility, WDC set out—along with our partners—to advocate for the passage of the most comprehensive and consequential tort reform legislation advanced in this state in more than 15 years. WDC was intimately involved in the drafting of this legislation and the initial unsuccessful effort to pass this tort reform package in 2005. However, with the election of a new governor and a receptive legislature, we were able to successfully shepherd the Civil Liability Reform Actthrough to passage.

Unfortunately, we did face a few setbacks to our legislative agenda. WDC had hoped to introduce and pass other various pieces of legislation; however, the legislature was unable to take up many of our proposals this session because of the time consumed by the budget battle. Needless to say, we were disappointed but undeterred because the stage is now set for WDC to reintroduce those other important initiatives this coming fall.

Another goal was to reignite WDC’s Amicus Brief Program. In order to do so, we revamped our evaluation process to ensure that we were timely and consistently evaluating cases that required our attention. As a result of our new model, WDC has been granted leave to file amicus briefs in two cases before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The first case is Blue Cross Blue Shield United of Wisconsin v. Casper.[i] In Blue Cross, we are urging the court to mitigate the harsh standard currently applied in cases where defendants seek relief on a theory of excusable neglect. At the time of this writing, Blue Cross had not yet been decided, but will likely be on the books by the time you are reading this article. It is my hope that WDC's efforts will have contributed to a favorable result. Second, on May 18, 2011, the Wisconsin Supreme Court granted the WDC’s request for leave to file an amicus brief in Hirschhorn v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co., a significant insurance coverage case that could have far-reaching implications for insurers and homeowners in Wisconsin.[ii] I want to thank the WDC members involved in the Amicus Brief Program for the important work they are doing.

In line with our underlying mission to offer our members high quality educational programming, WDC’s Program Chair, Arthur Simpson, has done a tremendous job fielding excellent speakers and coordinating a superb winter and spring program. Art also has a fantastic summer program lined up for us at the Kalahari Resort in the Wisconsin Dells. I cannot express how grateful I am for the splendid job he has done as the Program Chair. This organization is very fortunate to have him as part of our team.

Finally, I pledged to continue to build upon and to strengthen our membership. With that goal in mind, the WDC Board met in special session during our spring meeting to revamp and revitalize our membership committee structure. As a result of that meeting, WDC has instituted a robust membership recruitment and retention program that should serve the organization well; and, thanks to all of you, WDC is financially sound and prepared to meet any and all challenges that lie ahead.

I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to each and every WDC member for your commitment and dedication to this organization. In particular, I would like to thank the WDC Officers and entire Board of Directors for their guidance and thoughtful advice as we grappled with various challenges that arose throughout the year. Michael Gill will take the reigns as President this coming year, and I am absolutely confident that Michael will serve as an outstanding leader for this organization.

To close, I would also like to extend my gratitude to Attorney Andrew Hebl of the Boardman Law Firm, who serves as the Editor-In-Chief of the Wisconsin Civil Trial Journal. I appreciate the time and effort that he has expended putting this publication together. He has done a magnificent job with the Journal in ensuring that we continue to produce a high quality, informative, and scholarly publication.

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

[ii] Case No. 09-AP-2768, (Petition for Review granted March 16, 2011).