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Judge goes to bat for the poor

Editor’s note: The version of this article that appears in the May 9 print edition of Wisconsin Law Journal is incorrect. We sincerely apologize for the error and will be running Judge Sankovitz’s corrected answers in the May 16 print edition. The updated version below features the judge’s correct answers and bio.


Hon. Richard Sankovitz

Hon. Richard Sankovitz

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Rick Sankovitz is known as many things – philosopher, advocate, baseball fan – in addition to his role as presiding judge in the Felony Division.

Since joining the bench in 1996, Sankovitz has carved out a reputation as a thoughtful yet direct judge handling contentious cases such as the first in a series of lawsuits against the manufacturers of lead paint three years ago.

But Sankovitz would rather not be the center of attention in the courtroom, he said, and prefers to leave that to the lawyers arguing either side of a case.

That is not to say his contributions go unnoticed, as he helped to lay the groundwork for the Access to Justice Commission, which is tasked with expanding legal services to poor people in Wisconsin.

Sankovitz is also armed with an extensive knowledge of baseball, like that of the federal judge he clerked for, Terry Evans, and has been known to pose the occasional trivia question to unsuspecting friends.

The Milwaukee native took a swing at 10 questions in this week’s Asked & Answered.

Wisconsin Law Journal:
If you could develop one CLE course for credit, what would it be about?

Rick Sankovitz: A pro bono apprenticeship for all new lawyers. The earlier in your career you commit, the more likely pro bono will become a lifelong pursuit and the more you can reap of the most fulfilling rewards law has to offer.

WLJ: What was your least favorite course in law school and why?

Sankovitz: An advanced UCC (uniform commercial code) course. It still features in stock stress dreams I have about realizing on the day of the final exam that I forgot to attend any of the classes.

WLJ: What is your favorite website and why?

Sankovitz: Currently, milwaukee.k12.wi.us/meir, the colorful website of the school that Golda Meir herself attended when she was growing up in Milwaukee, and proof of the quality education that MPS is capable of delivering. From there follow the link to dyssen-goldameir.dk, which chronicles the 17th annual visit to Denmark by intrepid Golda fourth graders (including my daughter) who are attending school in Copenhagen for two weeks.

WLJ: What is the one luxury item you cannot live without?

Sankovitz: I could probably live without my Timbuktu bike messenger bag, but how could I get by without all the stuff it holds?

WLJ: What is one thing attorneys should know that they won’t learn in law school?

Sankovitz: Succinct, plain speaking.

WLJ: What is the first concert you went to?

Sankovitz: Your memory tends to wax and wane after thirty years. Was I really there with everyone else who says they saw Bruce Springsteen’s Milwaukee debut at the Uptown? I think it had to be Genesis at Summerfest in 1978.

WLJ: If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would it be and why?

Sankovitz: One of those people who really did see Springsteen at the Uptown!

WLJ: What is your motto?

Sankovitz: I borrow it from Bob Marley: Every little thing’s gonna be all right.

WLJ: What is your favorite movie about lawyers or the law and why?

Sankovitz: The key to a good movie about the law, I think, is a good script. They had a pretty decent one to work with when they made “The Merchant of Venice,” the 2004 version with Al Pacino. Timeless treatment of prejudice, mercy and the sanctity of contract.

WLJ: If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what career would you have chosen?

Sankovitz: In high school, the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory suggested I should be a priest or a farmer. With the current prospects for the state budget, these options are now beginning to look kind of rosy.

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