Milwaukee’s Michael Maistelman said he was drawn to a legal career at a young age because of countless inspiring mealtime conversations growing up.
“My parents were always very concerned about the greater good, making change and bettering people’s lives,” he said.
As a new lawyer in the mid 1990s, former Milwaukee County judge and longtime Wisconsin Rep. Fred Kessler urged Maistelman to represent a colleague who’d lost in the local school board race and wanted a recount. Ultimately, they discovered a nursing home where votes had been miscounted.
Not long after, Maistelman represented South Milwaukee Mayor David Kieck in a recount. Ultimately, Kieck won by one vote.
By then, Maistelman was hooked and began to concentrate in campaign finance and election law, starting his own firm in 2000.
These days, he is perhaps best known for his representation of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and numerous prominent Democratic elected officials, including former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, U.S. Congressmen Ron Kind and Steve Kagen, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
Notable among them was his 2006 work for former Gov. Jim Doyle, whose re-election opponent, Republican Congressman Mark Green, had transferred $467,844 from his federal congressional campaign to his state gubernatorial campaign in violation of Wisconsin election laws.
Maistelman successfully argued before the State Elections Board that the transfer should be divested, and the case made national headlines. Doyle was re-elected.
He then represented the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in its 2009 open records lawsuit against former state Sen. Dan Kapanke of La Crosse. The case settled with an admission of liability and the state paying $100 in damages, plus $38,000 in fees.
But Maistelman isn’t averse to representing members of other political parties under circumstances where an injustice otherwise would occur. He’s currently representing Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s former deputy chief of staff, Tim Russell, who is facing embezzlement charges.
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson said Maistelman provided invaluable advice in his 2004 run for the Wisconsin Assembly.
“Mike played an important role in pushing back an attack run by my opponent that was completely untrue and based on bad information,” Nelson said. “He put together a very effective legal strategy that was novel and cutting-edge at the time, but has since been subsequently repeated.
“Because of that strategy, we put the campaign back on track and ultimately won.”