'Champion the poor and forgotten in court'
Allouez Forum speaker sees many glimmers of hope in modern legal profession
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
The major complaints of the law that attorney Bert Liebmann hears are that it is too complicated and too costly, but progress is being made in these areas, he said.
Liebmann presented "Glancing Ahead: Glimmers of Hope as an Attorney" at the Claude Allouez Forum at the Bemis International Center, St. Norbert College, De Pere. The forum is sponsored by the Diocese of Green Bay and the college's theological institute.
"I have found that glimmers of hope are where we find them, in the little things," said Liebmann.
Little things to simplify the law include: an increased limit on small claims court cases to $5,000 so more people can take their own cases to court; more arbitration and mediation cases to solve disputes; and steps taken by the Wisconsin legislature to make it easier for families to dispose of personal property when a loved one dies.
"In regard to taxes, studies showed that people are more interested in simplification than the amount of the refund," said Liebmann, who has practiced law since 1968. "Simplification was the major thrust of the Reagan Tax Bill. I see a glimmer of hope in the movement of lawyers to use more simple language."
Expense remains another major problem in the legal process, said Liebmann.
"The legal system is particularly hard on poor people," he said. "They have some of the same legal needs as people who can afford lawyers. They get into auto accidents, they have problems with their kids and they need protection from physical abuse. In addition, they need help with slum lords. Poor people are sometimes wrongfully denied their right for public assistance."
Liebmann points to the many attorneys who provide 'pro bono' services (free) and the development of the Legal Services program by Pres. Richard Nixon, which includes five offices in Wisconsin which provide legal assistance, as glimmers of hope in assisting the poor in combating expensive legal fees.
The development of a federal court in Green Bay will also help defray legal expenses, continued Liebmann.
"It's a big, big deal, 50 years in the works," he said. "It's good for law enforcement. All crimes on Indian reservations are federal crimes. It's good for victims, witnesses and law enforcement officers who must testify and had to travel to Milwaukee."
The quality of people who practice law is another glimmer of hope, added Liebmann. He singled out Dcns. Paul Umentum, Mike Grzeca and Randy Haak, all practicing attorneys.
"If you take the intellectual training in law school and the way lawyers think, and combine that with a commitment to your church and environment, it's a good thing," he said.
Liebmann also sees glimmers of hope at the national level including the death penalty.
"I am encouraged by the action of the governor of Illinois who called for a moratorium on the death penalty after realizing that they probably put to death innocent people," he said. "The advances in the use of DNA testing is important."
"I will admit that 30 or 40 years ago, I supported the death penalty," he continued. "There isn't a reason why our society needs to stoop to the level of putting people to death."
"I'm proud to be a part of the legal system," Liebmann said in reflecting on his career. "I'm proud to be an officer of the court. The relationships I have made over the years are important and satisfying."
Liebmann shared a story about Bob, a veteran of the Vietnam War who suffered injuries from an industrial explosion and could no longer work with other people. A Milwaukee lawyer representing Bob told him there was nothing he could do to help him since his statute of limitations on the case was about to expire. Liebmann's firm took the case.
"We were able to get a nice recovery for him," said Liebmann. "Bob and I developed a relationship. I set up a trust for him. Bob has since died, but I am pleased that I was able to make his remaining years quality ones. I was able to see God's plan unfold for me."
The next season of the Claude Allouez Forum opens on Sept. 14 with Dr. William Hynes, president of St. Norbert College, De Pere, as the speaker. The theme for next season is "So many books, so little time." For more information, call (920)437-7531, ext. 8184.