President’s Message: WDC—Making a Difference

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

We are indeed witnessing a momentous and historic political renaissance in the state of Wisconsin. When the 2011 legislative session kicked off, who could have imagined that Wisconsin would stand in the center of one of the most consequential political debates to occur in this state in decades?

This epic political struggle has involved hundreds of thousands of citizens from every walk of life and has captivated the nation. The legal, political, and social implications for our state will likely be profound, and historians will ultimately sort out the winners and losers. However, I am very proud to say that the Wisconsin Defense Counsel (WDC) played a critically important role in shaping Wisconsin’s newly enacted tort reform legislation.

The road to passage of the Civil Liability Reform Bill began on January 11, 2011, when the Senate and Assembly Judiciary Committees held a joint hearing on Special Session Senate Bill 1/Assembly Bill 1. WDC was well represented. Testimony was offered at the hearing on behalf of WDC by James J. Mathie of the Law Offices of Attorney James J. Mathie; Attorney James T. Murray, Jr., of the law firm of Peterson, Johnson, & Murray, S.C.; and Attorney Michael B. Brennan, who is a partner at the law firm of Gass Weber Mullins, LLC.
Attorney Jim Mathie's testimony focused on the proposed changes to the product liability laws, while Attorney James Murray discussed the need to impose limits on the Risk Contribution doctrine. Finally, Attorney Michael Brennan discussed the impact of adopting the Daubert rule, which he testified would help to ensure that experts offer a sufficient scientific basis for their opinions before being permitted to testify. All three of our witnesses did an excellent job testifying as well as fielding questions from legislators. It was a long day and a tough assignment; therefore, the WDC membership would like to extend our gratitude for the time and expertise our witnesses provided throughout this process.

In the days following the hearing, Hamilton Consulting Group's Andrew Cook and I met with various legislators to shore up support for the bill. In addition, WDC offered amendments and suggestions for changes to alleviate any concern that our legislative sponsors had with certain provisions in the proposed bill. WDC also worked with several other organizations, including the Wisconsin Hospital Association, the Wisconsin Civil Justice Council, and the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, to ensure that we had the votes to pass the bill.

When the bill passed the Senate and Assembly, we all felt a real sense of accomplishment and gratification. The Civil Liability Reform Act arguably constitutes the most significant change to Wisconsin tort law in 15 years.

WDC is a nonpartisan organization. Nevertheless, as the President of WDC, I was honored to attend the signing of the new law by Governor Scott Walker. Although I served as WDC’s representative, my attendance at the signing is a tribute to years of commitment to this campaign by WDC and its membership.

So, what is on the horizon? Well, we still have work to do. Over the next several months we hope to encourage the legislature to introduce new legislation that will benefit our members. With that in mind, we are currently working on several other pieces of legislation that we believe will provide the defense bar with new tools to ensure fairness in the courtroom.

We would really appreciate your input, so we want to encourage you to keep the lines of communication open. If you have an idea for changes in the law that you believe we should consider, please feel free to contact myself or a member of the WDC Board of Directors.

Lastly, I have been heartened by the reception and respect that WDC has received from the Governor’s office, legislators, the media, and other organizations that now see WDC as an important ally in the legislative process.
Thank you all for your continued support.