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DiMotto: A true judge’s judge

(Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Judge John DiMotto – Milwaukee County Circuit Court (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

If there’s one thing that shows Judge John DiMotto’s dedication to the profession, it’s the four file cabinets full of case briefs that followed him as he moved through all six divisions of Milwaukee County Circuit Court.

DiMotto makes it a point to categorize and provide briefs for every case that is recommended for publication, save for attorney-discipline cases. He embarked on this task in 1974, when he was still a legal intern in the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office.

Retirement from his career of 40 years, 27 ½ of which were spent on the bench, doesn’t necessarily mean DiMotto is going to stop. His current plans will have him continuing to provide briefs on cases so that he can stay up-to-date on the law, contributing to the state’s judicial education program and possibly serving as a reserve judge.

Known around the state as an expert at trial work, DiMotto is the judge new judges call on when they run up against especially difficult situations in their own courtrooms.

Judges from Ashland to Kenosha counties have turned from time to time to his outlines. These are known to provide invaluable assistance to anyone searching for various types of information needed in legal proceedings.

Dan Blinka, a criminal-law professor at Marquette University and a long-time friend of DiMotto’s, says DiMotto will be remembered for his excellence as a trial judge, for letting lawyers try their cases and for letting different voices be heard in the courtroom.

Blinka said DiMotto has a deep background in the criminal courts. The time he spent in the Milwaukee DA’s office saw him trying some of the toughest cases to come along. DiMotto was there for 15 ½ years, nine of which saw him leading the sensitive-crimes unit, where Blinka worked under his supervision.

“He was the epitome of the prosecutor who wants justice in his cases and who is not afraid to try something that is a hard case to try for whatever reason,” Blinka said.

DiMotto’s best qualities are those that trial lawyers tend to exhibit when they’ve been trained in criminal courts: He’s confident and good at arguing, says Blinka. Beyond that, though, DiMotto is calm, collegial and diligent.

Then there’s his common sense.

“He still has that ability, that self assurance, to listen to what the other side is saying,” Blinka said.

Pat Dunphy, a personal-injury lawyer who has argued cases before dozens of judges around the country, says DiMotto should be a model for all judges.

Dunphy represented two Milwaukee police officers who sued a West Milwaukee gun shop after they had been shot by someone whose gun had been purchased there. The lawsuits touched on both state and federal law – a situation that made Dunphy nervous.

DiMotto helped bring back his ease of mind. For that, Dunphy credited DiMotto’s legal acumen and absolute control of the courtroom.

“Judge DiMotto will be remembered as a class act dedicated to doing the right thing, willing to take the time to do the right thing and someone who cared deeply about making sure the justice system did right by those who appeared in front of him,” Dunphy said.


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