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July 2015 – Installation as NWSBA President

The many years of excellent leadership of the Northwest Suburban Bar Association has most recently been under the stewardship of our immediate past president, William Kelley. Bill has been a major contributor to the NWSBA for the past ten years. Bill Kelley leads by example – he is also a long time Harper College Trustee, and Rotarian. As NWSBA President, Bill always listened to what others had to say, and he has helped move this organization forward in many ways. For all you have done and all you will do, we thank you, Bill.

Also, in reflecting on this previous year, we take a moment to remember our dear friend, Don Norman, who passed away in early June. Don was a founding member of the NWSBA. At our 50th Anniversary celebration, Don was given the Founder’s Award for having a key role in starting this organization, fifty-five years ago. Don was the Secretary of the NWSBA for ten years, a Democratic Committeeman, and a constant advocate for expanding the court system out into the suburbs, an endeavor which we continue today by our current initiative of working for the expansion of probate cases in the suburban district courts. Don was a great friend to many and will be dearly missed.

As for myself, I am a lifelong resident of Arlington Heights and, along with my wife Carol, have raised our two wonderful children, Kevin and Lindsey in this community (hey, if you can’t say your own children are wonderful, who will?). The many years I have spent here have shown me that the northwest suburbs are a great place to live and work.

I began practicing law in the northwest suburbs in July of 1984, which is when I promptly headed over to the NWSBA office (located on Northwest Highway at that time) and met Nancy Hughes, the executive director at the time, and a wonderful lady. That day I joined the NWSBA, got involved with the Civil Litigation Committee and have been a member ever since. And now, 31 years later, I am very proud and honored to accept the role and responsibility as President of this fine organization.

In preparing for this coming year, I have come to the conclusion that there are two primary roles for any bar association. First, to provide quality CLE’s to its members, and second to create a professional community amongst its members.

Regarding the first objective, I pledge to focus on continuing our tradition of delivering top-quality CLE programs through the involvement of our highly dedicated committee chairs. And, I think that we all as members should make the effort to join and become active and engaged in our substantive committee meetings, activities, and seminars. Our substantive committee chairs, who take time and energy away from their direct, revenue- producing work, are our greatest assets, and I thank all of you who have accepted these roles of great responsibility in order to better our members, our organization and our profession. One such individual is Howard Bernstein.

Howard is known as a lawyer’s, lawyer; he’s always prepared. Howard is also able to distill the most complicated cases down to their essence. But not only is Howard a very accomplished lawyer, he has also been instrumental in helping the NWSBA fulfill its role in delivering quality Family Law CLE’s to its members over many years. Howard has been writing Family Law updates on a monthly basis for the NWSBA for the past thirty-seven years, which is well over 400 articles. Howard has also been presenting at the annual Matrimonial Law Seminar for the past twenty-five years. Truly, Howard is an NWSBA treasure, and we are lucky to have him. In recognition of his long history of service to the NWSBA, Howard Bernstein was presented with the President’s Award for Excellence in Continuing Legal Education at the Installation dinner.

In addition to professional development through quality CLE’s, the other important role of a bar association, which is developing a professional community, must also remain a priority. Being involved with the NWSBA has allowed me to become aware of how many people volunteer their time and effort to our profession through this organization. Without their effort this organization would simply cease to exist. NWSBA members serve the northwest suburban community in many ways, one of which is by their many hours of pro bono work.

The NWSBA has a long history of staffing pro bono programs in the Third Municipal District Courthouse. Whether it is through the Court Facilitator programs for divorce and paternity on Thursday mornings, the Pro Se Desk on Friday afternoons, or the Legal Self-Help Center on Friday mornings, NWSBA lawyers contribute over 500 hours of probono work each year, all of which is completely voluntary.

This “Spirit of Service,” which is so prevalent throughout our organization, is personified in the individuals who were presented with awards at the Installation Dinner: Howard Bernstein, Michael Lightfoot, and Hon. William O. Maki.

Michael Lightfoot was responsible for transforming the NWSBA’s technology from outdated (to put it kindly) to state-of-the-art. Mike saw the need for his unique expertise (computer science background), and became the chair of our Website and IT Committee. Along with our Executive Director, Julie Barth, Mike implemented a two-phase plan which took three years to design and implement. The Bar Association is truly grateful for the countless hours Mike has spent giving back to our community. To recognize Mike Lightfoot’s many hours spent revamping the NWSBA technology systems over the past seven years, Mike was presented with the President’s Award for Excellence in Technology.

In this same spirit, the NWSBA recognized the Honorable William O. Maki for his many years of public service by presenting him with the President’s Award for Distinguished Public Service. Judge Maki began his judicial career in 1992. Before that, he served as a Village Trustee of Arlington Heights, chaired the Arlington Heights Plan Commission, and was elected and served as Mayor of Arlington Heights during a time when the Village of Arlington Heights faced significant controversial issues including proposed high-rise development.

However, then, just as now, Judge Maki would make every effort to build a consensus, listen to all parties involved even when he disagreed with their position, but was not afraid to make the hard decisions when necessary. Judge Maki has been routinely characterized as a well principled and knowledgeable judge who approaches his duties with compassion and fair mindedness. He is accurately described as having an outstanding demeanor and temperament, which are bolstered by his kindness, patience, and integrity. While on the bench, Judge Maki is described as someone who is intellectually honest, asks insightful questions of both sides, follows the law, and states the basis for his decisions. Currently, Judge Maki’s priority is to maintain the highest standard of judicial integrity, and judicial independence at the Third Municipal District Courthouse, where he is the Presiding Judge. The attorneys, other judges, and citizens of the northwest suburbs are truly fortunate to have a dedicated public servant like Judge William O. Maki as the Presiding Judge of the Third Municipal District Court.

In closing, I have to tell you that I am hugely excited about serving as your President of the NWSBA this coming year! I, along with the newly elected officers (Nichole Waltz-First Vice President, Jay Andrew-Second Vice President, Mike RothmannTreasurer, and Mimi Cooper-Secretary), pledge to build upon the foundation which has been laid by our predecessors. I also look forward to working with the newly elected NWSBA Foundation Board. And, thank you to past president, Lee DeWald, for his excellent job as MC at the Installation dinner.

So, please take advantage this year of the opportunity to get engaged with the NWSBA, it’s programs, projects, committees, and most importantly, with your fellow lawyers. If you are searching for ways to get involved, contact a committee chair (listed on our website –, feel free to call me at (847) 357-0403, or call any one of our capable staff, Julie Barth, ED, Linda Hamann, or Paula Krueger, at (847) 221-2601. Because it is only with your involvement, that we, the NWSBA, continue to be effective and beneficial to our members, and have a positive impact on our profession and on our local community.

R.F. Wittmeyer

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