We’ve Only Just Begun – One Odd and My End

WDC Journal Edition: Spring 2008
By: James J. Mathie, President - Civil Trial Counsel of Wisconsin

If you were in attendance at the December conference at the Marriott in Waukesha, you probably heard me speak briefly about CTCW’s intent to pursue a marketing and public relations campaign to further raise the profile of this organization and its members.

Well, that process has continued in earnest. On April 1st we received proposals from four excellent marketing and public relations firms. Each of the firms will be given the opportunity to make a presentation to the CTCW Board at the Spring Conference in Kohler.

After the board has chosen one of the firms, the marketing plan should be in place by the time of the annual conference. It is truly an exciting time for CTCW. That’s one good reason why all members should be seriously considering becoming more involved with this strong and growing organization.

I have used each of my columns to discuss and promote CTCW. But I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the recent Supreme Court election. It was without a doubt the ugliest campaign that I can recall. I believe that it diminishes the respect for the Court when such negative campaigning takes place.

The best example that I have of how bad the negative campaigning has gotten comes from my own family’s experience. My wife, Trish went to vote with our second grader in tow. On her way out, Joe commented, “So you voted for “Loophole Louie.” We’re in a pretty sorry state when the pervasiveness of the negative campaigning extends so far that the second graders have picked up the jargon.

But the money and negative campaigning is by no means one-sided. The first commercial that I remember seeing starred the Mike Gableman bobblehead. Predictably there have been calls for campaign finance reform. There may be some merit to some reform. But I think that it is naïve to think that the source of the money in the candidates’ campaigns has much to do with the negativity of the campaign. Virtually all the negative campaigning this year came from third-party money from outside the State of Wisconsin. Campaign finance reform probably won’t fix that.

The law it seems is like a pendulum, swinging both left and right. When it swings too far in either direction, there is inevitably a strong pull back in the other direction. Within recent years there have been a number of decisions that have indicated to some that the Court was swinging too far to the left.

Those decisions gained national attention and raised the specter that the Court might be reaching beyond its intended powers and responsibilities. Unfortunately when it appears that the Court is legislating from the bench, it’s much more likely that Supreme Court Justices will be treated like politicians than nonpartisan arbiters. Is it any surprise then that our Supreme Court elections have begun to look like political campaigns?

What will end political campaigns for the Supreme Court are decisions by the Court that can’t be read to represent legislating from the bench – no matter whether the Court is more conservative or more liberal.

Finally, as quickly as this year began, it is coming to an end for me. This is my last President’s message, although I won’t hand over the gavel to Rob Lauer until the annual conference in August.

There are too many people to thank to hope that I could accomplish that effectively here. I would however like to thank the CTCW board members for their time and commitment throughout the year. Within that board, I have special thanks for the executive committee of Rob Lauer, Catherine Rottier, Bryce Tolefree and John Slein and for Jane Svinicki, our executive director. You have made this a banner year for CTCW.