Patrick and Peggy Higdon were asleep in a cabin at the Cedar Grove Resort, about 65 miles northeast of Green Bay. It was the wee hours of July 10, 2006. And something ignited the leaking propane.
The explosion killed the Higdons and injured their three children. Two years later, the orphans collected a record-setting settlement.
But if their lawyer, Ralph Tease, had stuck to his original career plan, they might have had to settle for a lot less than $21 million.
Tease, it turned out, has a knack for connecting with jurors. That talent easily could have gone to waste; he earned an accounting degree at St. Norbert College before graduating magna cum laude from law school at Marquette.
He had the credentials that usually lead to a quiet tax practice at a silk-stocking firm.
“I started my career that way, and I sat in a cubicle,” Tease said. “I had gotten a taste of law clerking in law school, and I thought I wanted something more of my law career than sitting in a cubicle.”
He changed firms and started doing more trial work, defending insurance companies in personal injury cases.
“I enjoyed my career, but one day I was sitting at my desk and the phone rang and it was Bob Habush,” Tease said. “They were opening a Green Bay office, and he wanted to know if I wanted to run that office. I ended up on the other side of the table.
“It’s been a wonderful career for me over the years here.”
Tease oversees six attorneys at Habush Habush & Rottier SC, where he has earned a reputation for his vigorous advocacy and success in cases some might think unwinnable. In nominating Tease, fellow Habush partner Joseph Troy wrote that Tease came to the firm in 1995 with a reputation for keeping his opponents off guard with unexpected, creative approaches to his cases.
Tease, the first in his family to attend college, credited his upbringing for his uncanny ability to connect with jurors.
“I know what motivates them …,” he said.
“It allows me to present a case that is credible and persuasive.”