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Craig Mastantuono Nov. 29, 2012

The Holidays Bring Out Their BestNovember 30, 2009Wisconsin Law Journal Staff

Spoiler alert: If you’re a child planning on attending the Milwaukee Society of the Polish Center’s Christmas party on Dec. 13, or if you are or will be a patient (of any age) at St. Francis Hospital in Milwaukee on Dec. 2, stop reading right now!

For those of you who are still reading, I regret to inform you that Santa Claus does not exist. The Santa who’ll be in the house on those days is really Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Dennis R. Cimpl.

Cimpl was recruited for the role of St. Nick five years ago for the Society party. Not long afterward, Judge Michael J. Skwierawski tapped him to play Santa at the hospital, where Skwierawski’s extended family carols and gives out ornaments every year.

That first year, Cimpl studied the not-so-simple rules for being Santa.

Central among them: Never promise a child a gift; but you may express optimism that it will be under the tree in exchange for good behavior if his or her parent, who’s likely snapping a photo, gives the nod.

He says for the first few years, he used to don the suit at home before driving to the events.

“The looks I got from people, driving my little red car on the freeway,” Cimpl recalls.

One year, he locked his keys in his car. He was fumbling around outside, looking not-so-jolly, and not wearing the hat, wig and beard, when he saw a group of children approaching. Realizing the gravity of the situation, he quickly adjusted his attitude and put his gear back on.

Now he dresses up onsite, so he’s not forced to be in character unexpectedly. He’s also more careful with the keys.

Parties focus on philanthropy

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Jane V. Carroll has been doing a little extra holiday shopping for the past four years that she’s been assigned to Children’s Court.

She takes “elves” — her own children — with her on her shopping trips to help her pick out and wrap gifts for children in the foster care system in Milwaukee. They receive a child’s name and wishlist; this year, Carroll took on five.

The family distribute the presents at a party hosted by the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare. Now in its fifth year, the event’s guests of honor are about 250 children. Also attending are countless foster parents, social workers, judges, lawyers, court staff, people from all walks of life, and of course, Santa Claus. There are games, activities and a full meal is served.

Carroll says, “It’s something that’s completely positive and fun for these families.

“During the rest of the year, we see their struggles and challenges, so it’s nice to let them know we care. It’s a very concrete, specific way to give back. My own kids and I enjoy that we get a name, an age and a wishlist; we get to learn a little about them, and help make them happy.”

This year’s party is on Dec. 11 at the Northside YMCA, Urban Campus Center at 1350 W. North Ave. To get involved, call Kelly Bell at (414) 220-7919.

Another holiday party is held … in jail?

Absolutely, says Milwaukee criminal defense attorney Craig A. Mastantuono. His firm, Mastantuono Law Office, annually sponsors an event for youth who attend the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee at the Ethan Allen/Wales Juvenile Correctional Institution.

“These are kids who’ve been sent to juvenile corrections — or prison — and who have earned the privilege to attend the Boys & Girls Club within the institution,” Mastantuono explains.

“Moving through prison gates and walls to get to one spot of positive in an otherwise depressing environment is emotional. The Clubs’ motto — ‘the positive place for kids’ — is never more apparent than when one visits this particular club.

“It’s always the most moving holiday event that I attend during the season, by far. These kids, many there for very serious offenses, show themselves, in that setting, to be kids like any other, who appreciate someone with whom to celebrate the holidays,” says Mastantuono.

Mastantuono and his co-workers organize the event and recruit volunteers, who bring food and gifts. Among them this year will be Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Katharine F. Kucharski, Milwaukee Municipal Court Judge Derek C. Mosley, and a few others “who think that these kids deserve to know that someone cares about them.”

In attendance are the kids and their families, and Boys & Girls Club staff.

The date of this year’s party has not been determined. Any financial assistance is appreciated. Contact Cynthia McPhedran at cynthiam@boysgirlsclubs.org to donate.

Finally, the La Crosse County Bar Association will get together to honor staff at its Christmas party on Dec. 18 at Logistics Health.

But some attendees just can’t stop working. They’re members of the La Crosse chapter of the Paralegal Association of Wisconsin, and they’re busy collecting non-perishable food items and donations for the Hunger Task Force and West Avenue Food Emergency Resource, as well as food pantries for local schools.

Now in its eleventh year, the drive typically results in dozens of bags of groceries and several hundred dollars for the cause.

Marlane Myhre, a paralegal at Hale Skemp Hansen Skemp & Sleik in La Crosse, is one of the four organizers. It’s a fairly time consuming task, post-party, to transport the food. But they love the reactions they receive from the donees, especially the schools.

“A lot of kids no longer have free or reduced-rate lunches from their schools because of the break. They really count on getting some food from their schools to take home with them,” Myhre says.