John Rothstein typically represents large entities in high-profile, high-stakes litigation.
For example, he was involved in the recent resolution of a nine-figure trust case. He also represented the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and the outside directors of Koss Corp. in the nation’s largest private embezzlement action.
But to Rothstein, the highlight of his 33-year legal career was his (mostly pro bono) representation a few years ago of two female retirees who owned property next to a hunting club. The club’s patrons frequently were trespassing beyond an easement on his clients’ land.
The women lost before both the circuit court and Court of Appeals.
“They were crestfallen by all this,” Rothstein said. “So I took it to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and although it was a relatively small case, it was a very important legal issue.
“Lo and behold, they reversed the lower court.”
In fact, Grygiel v. Monches Fish & Game Club was decided 7-0.
“What’s significant to me was, they were in the right,” Rothstein said. “They were hurting, and the issue was much bigger than themselves. I was very pleased to help them, and there was a Supreme Court experience to boot.”
Another memorable victory, much earlier in Rothstein’s career, was when he persuaded a jury to find for his client, a landlord, against a tenant who didn’t pay rent because the air conditioning had failed.
“This was tried in the day when the Milwaukee County Courthouse was not air-conditioned. It was about 95 degrees, the windows were open and we were all still sweltering,” he recalled. “It was like a scene out of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’”
Rothstein is a leader within his family, too. Younger brother Greg followed him to Marquette Law a few years after he completed his J.D. Greg now practices in Milwaukee, while his sister-in-law, Stephanie, is a judge.
“John is and always has been a rare blend of the intellectual and the practical,” said Milwaukee lawyer Mike Apfeld, a friend since fifth grade. “He grasps both the legal forest and its many trees, and is equally capable of navigating the circuitous paths through the law or carving new ones if the situation requires a more direct approach.”