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Kuzmanovic stays tied to Milwaukee while litigating abroad

Tomislav Kuzmanovic (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Sometimes a bummer is the best thing that can happen to you, Tomislav Kuzmanovic said. Case in point: When, following a clerkship, he didn’t get offered a permanent position, Kuzmanovic landed a job at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Milwaukee.

He has been at the firm for 25 years.

“Not getting an offer landed me in the perfect place,” Kuzmanovic said. “I was given autonomy to grow, and got to try a case my first year.”

Extensive defense litigation practice, combined with his Croatian heritage, took Kuzmanovic to another unexpected place — the Hague’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Kuzmanovic’s client, Gen. Mladen Markac, originally was sentenced to 18 years in prison but was acquitted on appeal less than a year later.

His work on the case earned Kuzmanovic the Croatian American Bar Association’s 2012 Vinodol Code Award for excelling in the practice of law.

Kuzmanovic, who turns 50 this year, grew up in Milwaukee and said he has been interested in the law since his days at Greendale Middle School.

“I was all about the point-counterpoint, and finding the evidence I needed to back me up,” Kuzmanovic said. “I took one of those job placement tests in middle school and it said I’d be a lawyer.”

Wisconsin Law Journal: What do you consider to be the most overrated virtue?
Tomislav Kuzmanovic:
That’s a tough one. I think most people, philosophers included, have a hard time differentiating among them. I think temperance would probably be the most overrated to me. Justice, of course, for a lawyer, along with honesty, can never be overrated.

WLJ: What is your greatest fear?
For me it is the fear that I won’t be able to provide for my family.

WLJ: What profession or job would you least like to do?
Any skilled labor, like carpentry or machinist. I would always be worried that I would mess things up because I’m not the greatest handy person. Physical labor is never an issue with me. I don’t think I’d have the skill or patience to build a cabinet or work in a tool room. My dad was a craftsman tool and die maker. I didn’t get those genes.

WLJ: What quality do you most like in others?
Reliability and friendliness. I like it when someone will do what they say they will do. Your word means everything. I know in the legal field things sometime get very confrontational, but my philosophy has always been that things get resolved when there is a modicum of decency and friendliness even in the most difficult situations.

WLJ: What is the first concert you went to?
Rush, March 1981, with Max Webster the opening band, at the Milwaukee Arena. I’m going to see them again on July 4 at Summerfest for about the 10th time. Last time I took my then 12-year-old son with me and we had a blast.

WLJ: Which living person do you most admire?
There are two that need mention. As far as someone I know, it is my wife, Melanie. She is able to stay positive and productive all the while juggling work, family and volunteering. For someone I don’t know, it is Nelson Mandela. His ability to turn the other cheek given what he experienced in life is an amazing lesson. I wish people in the Middle East could have the courage to follow his example.

WLJ: What is your greatest extravagance?
My dream car. Since I was a kid, I loved Corvettes and never thought that I could own one. Well, I now own one and it is like driving the batmobile.

WLJ: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I try not to use it in public, but I think the phrase “that’s bull****” would probably fit the bill.

WLJ: Where would you like to live?
In an ideal world, the Adriatic coast of Croatia. I wish it were closer.

WLJ: How would your mother describe you in one word?
Perfect. Don’t most mothers think that about their kids when they’re all grown up?

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