Mackall, Crounse & Moore, PLC has joined Dewitt Ross & Stevens S.C.

The newly formed DeWitt Mackall Crounse & Moore S.C. will provide clients with enhanced legal services
and efficiencies as well as access to more than 100 attorneys practicing in nearly 30 areas of
law in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

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John Duncan Varda

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Martha S. Olson

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John has acquired a broad knowledge of the transportation industry during more than 40 years of advising carriers, shippers, intermediaries, and others along the supply chain. He served as lead counsel in a series of landmark cases that established national standards related to truck size and safety. John also practices in the areas of attorney professional responsibility, ethics, and practice organization – an outgrowth of more than 25 years of service in law firm management, as the firm’s managing partner/CEO.


He represents transportation industry clients ranging from shippers, carriers, intermediaries and others along the supply management chain.

Notable Representations

During his career he has represented many clients in a variety of matters as highlighted below:

  • 1970-1985, Transportation Regulation, Representing Carriers and Shippers
    He has appeared in more than 500 administrative proceedings before the Interstate Commerce Commission, Ontario Highway Transport Board, and Wisconsin Public Service Commission and related appellate cases, which involved motor carrier operating rights, leasing, and rates; rail rates and services; and rail and car ferry abandonments. Included in the rate proceedings were motor and rail rates, regional and national general rate increases and reasonableness of specific rail rates on coal, wood chips, pulpwood, and clay. From this early experience he acquired a broad, practical knowledge of operating practices, costs, and governing law in the transportation industry (rail, motor, distribution, warehousing, and logistics).

  • 1975-1982, Commerce Clause Cases, U.S. Supreme Court
    In the area of Commerce Clause cases, John crafted the strategy for challenging state bans on twin trailer trucks under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. This led to more than 12 years of litigation, including three trips to the U.S. Supreme Court (challenging the laws of Wisconsin and Iowa) and a case-pending decision (Pennsylvania), which convinced Congress to act.

    In this matter, he led a team of lawyers that demonstrated, with operational evidence, the twin trailer vehicle to be an integrated part of a system for transporting interstate small shipment freight. They also proved, by comparative and direct safety evidence, there was no rational basis for excluding the vehicle from Interstate Highways and access routes. The U.S. Supreme Court complimented the quality of counsel’s effort:

    • “As one commentator has written, Commerce Clause adjudication must depend in large part “upon the thoroughness with which the lawyers perform their task in the conduct of the constitutional litigation. Here, as in many other fields, constitutionality is conditioned upon the facts, and to the lawyers the courts are entitled to look for garnering and presenting the facts.” Dowling, Interstate Commerce and State Power, 27 Va. L. Rev 1, 27-28 (1940).

    • Raymond Motor Transportation v. Rice, 417 F. Supp. 1352 (W.D. Wis. 1976), 434 U.S. 429 at 448, n. 25 (1978) (unanimous U.S. Supreme Court enjoined Wisconsin’s exclusion of twin trailers).

    • Kassel v. Consolidated Freightways, 475 F. Supp 544 (S.D. Iowa 1979), 612 F.2d 1064 (8th Cir. 1979), 450 U.S. 662 (1981) (enjoined Iowa’s restrictions on twin trailers).

  • In the fall of 1982, John’s team obtained a stay of decision after seven weeks of trial in the case challenging Pennsylvania’s exclusion of twin trailers, due to imminent action by Congress.

    The Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 endeavored to establish national truck size and weight standards (including twin trailers) for the Interstate Highway System and access routes; it reflected in legislative history the critical role of Wisconsin, Iowa and Pennsylvania twin trailer cases.

  • 1982-1989, Enforcement of National Standards, Truck Length, Width, Access
    1983-1995, Freight Undercharge Common Defense Groups, Regulatory Transition

    John led a team that defended the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 (“STAA”) and related rules; enforced access rights against State limitations; enforced removal of overall length limits; and provided proofs and prosecuted standards for “grandfathering” 53-foot and longer semi-trailers under the 1982 Act.

    His clients included Consolidated Freightways, Roadway, Yellow, United Parcel Service, Dart Transit, National Freight, Schneider National, Continental Can Company, and Owens-Illinois.

    The extensive list of cases he handled includes:

    • Consolidated Freightways v. Thomas D. Larson, et al.; 647 F. Supp. 1479 (M.D. Pa. 1986), 827 F.2d 916 (3rd Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 1032 (1988) (incorporated record from suspended Commerce Clause litigation against Pennsylvania’s ban of twin trailers to enforce new federal access standard);

    • National Freight, Continental Can, et al. v. Thomas D. Larson, et al., 583 F. Supp. 1461 (M.D. Pa. 1984), 760 F.2d 499 (3rd Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 902 (1985) (enforced STAA prohibition of overall length limit);

    • Continental Can Company, Inc., et al. v. Howard Yerusalim, et al., No. 87-0219 (M.D. Pa. 1987) (unpublished), 854 F.2d 28 (3rd Cir. 1988) (enforced STAA standard 102-inch width);

    • Continental Can Co., Inc., et al. v. Leonard Mellon, et al., No. 86-3563 (N.D. Fla. 1986) (unpublished), 825 F.2d 308 (11th Cir. 1987) (required Florida to issue permits for trailers longer than 48 feet);

    • Continental Can Company, et al. v. Henry Gray, et al., No. LR-C-87-70 (E.D. Ark. 1988) (unpublished) (enforced STAA compliance in Arkansas);

    • Continental Can Company, et al. v. Leo J. Trombatore, et al.; No. CIVS-87-0166 RAR JFM (E.D. Cal. 1987) (favorably settled, enforced California’s compliance with STAA length limits).

  • Notably, he originated one of the earliest (1983) common defense groups for defending against freight undercharge claims of bankrupt motor carriers. He defended against claims in approximately two dozen carrier bankruptcies, representing over 300 defendant shippers. His work helped streamline proceedings by grouping defenses by tariff issue and claim type, and defeated bankrupt plaintiffs’ efforts to extort settlements through litigation cost leveraging. In 1991, John petitioned successfully to the Federal Judicial Panel on Multi-district Litigation to consolidate cases involving common issues to defeat similar litigation cost leveraging.

  • 1988-1992, Pension Plan Litigation
    With his extensive knowledge in the area of pension plan litigation, John organized 250 named-plaintiff employees (using techniques developed in the freight undercharge common defense groups) and made all trial court appearances in the successful challenge to the employer’s retention of over $6.4 million in surplus funds on termination of the defined benefit pension plan. Albedyll v. Wisconsin Porcelain Co. Revised Retirement Plan, 11 E.B.C. 1072 (W.D. Wis. 1989), aff’d, 947 F2d 246 (7th Cir 1991).

  • 1985-Present, Transportation & Logistics Counseling, Related Litigation
    After more than 40 years, John continues to provide counsel to carriers, shippers, and shipper associations on evolving issues in transportation logistics and supply chain management. A few examples are drug and alcohol testing; commercial drivers’ licensing; hazardous materials training; shortline railroad spin-offs leading to creation of Wisconsin Central System (1987-1995); Negotiated Rates Act (1993); Trucking Industry Regulatory Reform Act (1994); ICC Termination Act (1995); Canadian National Wisconsin Central merger (2001); proposed hours-of-service regulations and re-write and updating of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (2000- ), shipper group activities, including Surface Transportation Board proceedings related to fuel surcharge and competitiveness issues (2001- ), currently serving as counsel to the Lake States Shippers Association, Inc., the Wisconsin Central Group and the Mercury Group.

    He litigates related cases, from loss and damage claims to hours-of-service rulemaking, from rail car leasing disputes to a series of bankruptcy proceedings and related cases arising from reorganization of a major warehouse and distribution operator.

  • 1973-Present, Professional Responsibility Practice, Firm Management
    He regularly provides counsel and litigates professional responsibility matters involving conflicts of interest, attorney discipline, ethics and other practice-oriented issues. Significant cases include Fireman’s Fund Ins. v. Waste Management of Wis., 777 F.2d 366 (7th Cir. 1985) (insured’s choice of counsel, conflict waiver, fee entitlement) (briefed and argued); and Jesse v. Danforth, 169 Wis. 2d 229 (1992) (confirmed entity rule in Wisconsin) (argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court). In 1994, John facilitated the merger between DeWitt Porter and Ross & Stevens; he then served as managing partner from 1994 to 2001. Currently, he serves on the Wisconsin Supreme Court Office of Lawyer Regulation Special Investigative Panel (2001-present).

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