From professor to public servant

Former Eau Claire business law professor recently appointed county judge

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Photo by Sam Martinez

Former UW-Eau Claire professor Brian Wright serves as judge Eau Claire county branch one. Gov. Scott Walker appointed him last July.

There comes a time in many people’s lives when they realize what they want to do when they grow up.

For Judge Brian Wright, that moment came wrapped in the lyrics of a Maureen McGovern song.

As part of an assignment for a junior high English class, the teacher asked Wright to explain the meaning of the song “The Morning After,” which was featured in a movie about a shipwreck called “The Poseidon Adventure.”

“I started telling (the teacher) my interpretation of the lyrics, and everyone starts laughing,” Wright said. “I’d given it a lot of thought, but if you had seen the movie it was obvious what was going to happen.”

Because of the way he defended his offbeat interpretation, the teacher told Wright he should be a lawyer someday. The advice stuck.

After practicing law for 15 years in Eau Claire, teaching business law at UW-Eau Claire and serving as a district attorney for nine months, Gov. Scott Walker appointed Wright as the Eau Claire county branch one judge last July.

In addition to his teacher’s consultation, Wright said the number one reason he chose to become an attorney was to help people. As an attorney, he was able to help people on a case-by-case basis. But now as a judge he gets to help people on an even broader level.

“It’s a chance to follow through on the reasons I went to law school,” Wright said.

Erwin Steiner, Wright’s former business partner and fellow Eau Claire professor, has stood before hundreds of judges in his career as an attorney, and he said Wright has all the attributes that make an excellent judge.

Steiner said in addition to being patient, ethical and dedicated, Wright’s experience as a professor will aid him with his job.

“You never really learn something so well as when you have to teach it,” Steiner said.

Wright said that as a professor who was simultaneously a practicing attorney, he often tried to throw in his real life experiences when teaching about the law.

From a financial advisor in New York to the owner of several businesses, Wright said it pleases him to see former students find success.

Although Wright’s days as a professor at Eau Claire are over, he can still be spotted on campus every now and then. Just this Wednesday, Wright appeared as a guest lecturer in one of Professor Steiner’s business law classes.

Wright, 55, was born in Berwin, Ill., but wasn’t there for long. He was born into a military family, and thus has lived in many different parts of the United States. He jokes the only two places he hasn’t lived are California and Texas.

He received his Bachelor’s degree at Lagrange College (Ga), and then went to the University of Denver (Colo) for graduate school. He spent three years working for Anderson Consulting before going to Law school at Marquette University, where he graduated in 1993.

Wright said he enjoys fishing and golfing in his free time, but he said he has the most fun hanging out with his 2-year-old daughter.

“You ask what I do for fun,” Wright said. “Right now, and this is absolutely fun, I go to the playground with my daughter.”

Wright said he is enjoying his job and hopes he will continue to be a judge for a while. He is up for reelection next April.