Michael Jasaitis gives his family effusive praise for instilling the values that propelled him to the presidency of the Lake County Bar Association. But competitive collegiate Nintendo also might have helped.
Jasaitis recalled that as a Valparaiso University freshman, a resident assistant paid a late-night call to his dorm room because the Tecmo Bowl video game and its players had allegedly disturbed him. The RA suggested the students sign a paper acknowledging their purported transgression. Jasaitis said his friends were willing to go along, but he sensed a developing injustice.
“I didn’t think we made enough noise to wake up our RA,” Jasaitis said in an interview in his Crown Point office at Austgen Kuiper & Associates P.C. “I called witnesses in the rooms in between our room and our RA’s room.”
His dorm neighbors hadn’t heard anything. “We defeated the theory of the RA that the noise was able to defy the laws of physics and enter his room without entering the rooms in between.”
Jasaitis recalled the experience as an early realization that he might have a future as a lawyer. He’s since become one of the state’s most noted attorneys for representing students who get into scrapes.
“The part of my practice I enjoy most for certain is representation of students at the high school level and before who are facing disciplinary or eligibility disputes,” Jasaitis said. “There is no better feeling than getting a call from a parent or student … and hearing that I made a difference in this child’s life.”
The evening he was installed as LCBA president in Merrillville concluded a day in which he had represented a student before a panel of the Indiana High School Athletic Association in Indianapolis. Indiana Justice Steven David acknowledged when introducing Jasaitis at his induction ceremony that Jasaitis was “probably the expert in IHSAA litigation.”
Jasaitis was installed on Jan. 17 in an event that drew David, fellow Indiana Justice and keynote speaker Loretta Rush, and attorneys from around the Northwest Region and across the state.
Rush recalled attending elementary school in the Region. “Lake County has three justices on the Indiana Supreme Court with Lake County roots,” Rush said before administering the oath to Jasaitis. “I’m one of your own.”
Rush’s message to Jasaitis and members of the Lake County bar was to strive for civility and find balance, particularly with family and friends. “The temptation of being a prisoner to our profession is just there,” Rush said.
Indiana State Bar Association President Daniel Vinovich also hails from Lake County. He said Jasaitis was a rising star in the Lake County bar whose leadership of the Young Lawyers Section of the ISBA was recognized by the American Bar Association.
“I know him very well,” Vinovich said. “He’s a wonderful person and a great attorney, by the way, and a remarkable leader. It’s going to be a very positive experience for the Lake County Bar Association to have a leader like him.”
Vinovich also noted the leadership of LCBA Vice President Mike Tolbert.
“We are blessed with some wonderful leadership coming from Lake County,” Vinovich said. Jasaitis put it this way in his installation address to the bar: “When we speak at the state level, people listen.”
Tolbert and Jasaitis also represent something of a youth movement for the LCBA, each having practiced a dozen years. “He’s energetic, spirited, really positive,” Tolbert said of Jasaitis.
Jennifer Irons of Sendak & Stamper in Crown Point conducted a reunion of sorts at Jasaitis’ installation ceremony, gathering with members of the inaugural Indiana State Bar Association Leadership Development Academy that graduated last year.
Jasaitis, too, was a member of that class, and among his peers in the group was David P. Lynch, a solo practitioner who traveled to Lake County from West Harrison in Dearborn County, some 230 miles. Others in the leadership class came from Indianapolis and elsewhere.
“A lot of us have come solely for the purpose of supporting Michael,” Irons said.
Big plans for 2013
Jasaitis presented an ambitious agenda to LCBA members after his induction.
“One of the goals I have for 2013 is to continue to bridge the gap between our bench and our bar,” he said. “It’s very integral to the success of this organization.”
Promoting diversity will continue to be a mission, but so will shining a light on the good work that attorneys do, Jasaitis said. “My theme is going to be … I’m proud to be a lawyer, and lawyers do good things.”
To that end, the LCBA’s public relations committee is being revived, and the bar will aim to publicize through its newsletter and other avenues the positive contributions attorneys are making in their communities.
It’s no secret that many in the general public have a negative view of attorneys, Jasaitis told the bar. “The only folks who can truly change the opinion of lawyers are ourselves.
“You need to let us know the good things you’re doing,” he said. “We want to showcase the fact that you’re doing it.”
Jasaitis also announced that the Indiana Supreme Court has scheduled a rare traveling oral argument to take place in Lake County on May 9. Time and location had not been confirmed at IL deadline.
Another ambition for the coming year is for the LCBA to offer more continuing legal education opportunities. Jasaitis said the local organization could offer more instruction by its members and for its members. “There’s absolutely no reason more programming can’t be sponsored by the Lake County Bar Association,” he said.
All of those things will help the LCBA be a thriving and vibrant organization, he said.
At his induction, Jasaitis was quick to credit his family for his achievements, including wife Katrina, 2-year-old son Jonas, and 11-month-old daughter Stella. “My friends continually remind me you are way out of my league,” he said to his wife.
Jasaitis’ mother and grandparents also attended his induction, and he made sure to mention them in his remarks, including his grandparents’ celebration of 65 years of marriage.
“My mother and my grandparents and others in my family gave me a down-to-earth, non-pretentious view of how things should work in this world,” he said in an interview afterward.
“Generosity, fairness, and the need to see both sides of an argument. … I think I’ve incorporated that into my leadership as well as my practice, and I have them to thank for that.”•