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Peterson never stops learning

John Peterson - senior shareholder, Peterson, Berk & Cross SC - Legal degree obtained from: Washington University School of Law, 1976

John Peterson – senior shareholder, Peterson, Berk & Cross SC – Legal degree obtained from: Washington University School of Law, 1976

John Peterson is a man of faith who represented sexual-abuse victims against the Diocese of Green Bay.

He also has a background in philosophy and law yet taught himself, for a cancer-ridden client, the science of benzene’s effect on the body.

He thrives on cases, he said, that bring him close to the real people involved and that give him a chance to learn.

“On the plaintiff’s side,” Peterson, of Peterson, Berk & Cross SC, said, “you have a human being you’re responsible for.”

Fourth of July fireworks accidents are common, but Peterson said, he saw more to the case of a 17-year-old who lost an eye shooting off bottle rockets under licensed supervision. Peterson took on the technical challenges of tracking down Chinese fireworks makers, U.S. distributors and sellers, and the geometry of the accident.

The verdict in favor of Peterson’s client was just shy of $2 million, and the client went on to a career in eye care.

Peterson’s intellect and commitment were essential in the fireworks case, said attorney Christine Bremer Muggli, of Bremer and Trollop SC, Wausau. Bremer Muggli met Peterson in the 1990s when he was on the board of what is now the Wisconsin Association for Justice.

She said Peterson “looks beyond obvious facts” to turn the tide of a case in his client’s favor.

“Even cases he might think could lose,” Bremer Muggli said, “he turns them around into winners because he’s committed.”

Peterson found his legal footing in civil defense in late-1970s Providence, R.I., while his wife went to grad school. There, he worked under a mentor, Joe Cavanaugh, whose guidance helped him “fall in love from the first trial.”

After Peterson’s wife secured a dean position at Lawrence University, Peterson took a job with the Appleton firm that now bears his name. Now, Peterson said, he shares with a younger generation of civil defense litigators an intense “belief in themselves,” which is helpful to clients going through complicated, personal affairs.

Explaining his own courtroom style, Peterson said he finds comfort in his background work and instincts.

“I try to be thorough and understated,” he said. “Just do my job and be fair and courteous. And I try to win.”


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