Inside Track: Forging a 50-year Legal Career: Reflections of a Justice, Federal Judge, and Three Law Professors:

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  • Forging a 50-year Legal Career: Reflections of a Justice, Federal Judge, and Three Law Professors

    What do Justice N. Patrick Crooks, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb, and Law School Professors Frank Tuerkheimer, Jack Kircher, and Larry Church have in common? In addition to their passion for the law, they were admitted to the bar in 1963. Here, they reflect on their legal careers that span five decades.

    Dianne Molvig

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    May 15, 2013 – Multiple factors can spark a person’s interest in a law career. For some, that career choice becomes a decades-long journey. Bar members who have reached the 50-year milestone will be honored today at a special celebration at the Delafield Hotel in Delafield.

    This article explores the career paths of five who found their way to a seat on the bench or an academic post. They join more than 100 Wisconsin-licensed lawyers who were admitted to the bar in 1963. The next issue of InsideTrack will feature five more honorees – Lawrence Bugge, Phillip Hellmuth, Tod Hodan, James Kolka, and Jack O’Brien – who steered their careers in other directions.

    John Kircher

    Jack Kircher: The best part of being a law professor is watching law students develop, especially in their first year, when many don’t know what a source is or how to spell ‘collateral.”

    Jack Kircher: Marquette Times Four

    The best part of being a law professor, says John “Jack” Kircher, is watching law students develop, especially in their first year, when many “don’t know what a source is or how to spell ‘collateral,’” he says. “Then suddenly they’re talking like lawyers, and they have a grasp of an area of the law. It’s interesting to see the evolution.”

    Fifty-three years ago, Kircher was a OneL himself. In fact, he’s now a 4M, he points out: a graduate of Marquette High School, Marquette University, and Marquette University Law School, and, since 1970, a member of the law school faculty.

    The career turn that eventually led him to academe started with a phone call in 1966. At the time, Kircher was practicing at a Port Washington firm, where he went to work immediately after earning his J.D.

    “I got a all from Jim Ghiardi, a former law school professor of mine,” Kircher recalls, “who was running the Defense Research Institute (DRI) in Milwaukee. He was looking for an assistant.” The DRI, now located in Chicago, is a professional association of lawyers involved in defense of civil litigation.

    He took the job, and when Ghiardi became president of the State Bar in 1970, he asked Kircher to take over teaching his insurance law classes at Marquette. Kircher agreed, while also continuing to work at DRI.

    “In about 1980, I figured two full-time jobs was one too many,” he says, “so I decided to concentrate exclusively on teaching.” Today, Kircher teaches a full course-load, including classes in torts, insurance, and product liability, and a seminar in advanced issues in torts.

    The way his career unfolded was “very serendipitous,” Kircher observes. “And I was very fortunate to have Jim as my mentor. He’s still perking along at age 94 and is now an emeritus professor here at Marquette.”

    Kircher has no plans to shift to emeritus status anytime soon, as long as student evaluations continue to show he’s got what it takes to do the job. “Bob Habush, who’s a couple of years older than I am, came in to talk to my product liability class yesterday,” he says. “He and I were talking, and we’re both of a mind that we still like what we’re doing. So why stop doing it?”

    Barbara Crabb

    Barbara Crabb: Her fascination with the law stems from family influence. Her father, uncle, and maternal grandfather were lawyers, and her mother “always wished she’d been one.”

    Barbara Crabb: Up for Challenges 

    Barbara Crabb notes that as a federal judge, you sometimes get what she refers to as “interesting mail.” Emotionally charged issues have landed in her court many a time during her 34-year career with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

    In Crabb’s view, the most challenging matters she’s faced were the tribal treaty rights cases, which first came before Judge James Doyle in the early 1970s. Crabb picked up where he left off in the mid-1980s. “He’d decided the contours of the tribes’ rights,” she says. “What I did was determine how those played out in terms of each kind of resource – muskie, deer, trees, and so on.”

    Due to tensions up north in those days, her family cut back on trips there. Once when they did go she remembers stopping at a Minocqua gas station on the way home. When her husband went inside to pay, he discovered an “impeach Crabb” sign on the counter. “He came out,” she recalls, “and told me, ‘I decided to pay cash’” to avoid having to sign his name on a receipt.

    Despite the strain that sometimes comes with the job, Crabb says what she likes best about being a federal judge is being “in the middle of things. Some cases are pretty cut-and-dried. But a lot of them are fascinating.”

    Her fascination with the law stems from family influence. Her father, uncle, and maternal grandfather were lawyers, and her mother “always wished she’d been one,” Crabb says. What had been a dream for her mother became a reality for Crabb when she enrolled at U.W. Law School in 1960.

    Dianne Molvig is a frequent contributor to area and national publications.

    After law school, she worked for a Madison firm for a few years before her husband’s job took them to Milwaukee. When they returned to Madison in 1968, Willard Hurst at the U.W. Law School asked her to be his research assistant. Other research projects followed in which she worked with George Bunn, Herman Goldstein, and Frank Remington.

    Then Judge Doyle hired her as a magistrate in his court in 1971. In that position she got to handle initial appearances, preliminary hearings, an occasional trial, and so on. After eight years, she weighed her next step.

    “I enjoyed being a magistrate,” she says, “but there were so many things I couldn’t do because I didn’t have the authority. I wanted to do more – to hold more trials, write more opinions.” She applied for an open spot on the federal bench, and President Carter appointed her in 1979.

    Larry Church

    Larry Church: “I teach not so much the law itself. I try to teach how to deal with the law, how to argue it, litigate it, give advice to clients, negotiate … how to think.”

    Larry Church: Worldly Experiences 

    Larry Church has shaped a law career that’s enabled him to blend his love of travel, learning about other cultures, and teaching. A summer during high school as an exchange student in Germany sparked the first two of those passions. As for the third, “I come from a family of teachers,” Church says, noting that both his father and grandfather had long teaching careers.

    Church’s first taste of teaching came right after he got his degree at the U.W. Law School. He signed up for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, where he taught at the country’s first-ever law school at Haile Selassie University. With a new constitutional monarchy, Selassie wanted to introduce the European civil law system to Ethiopia.

    “He was very interested in education,” Church says, “and used to wander into the law school from time to time. It was a very different time then. He didn’t seem to worry about assassination.” Selassie was ousted in a coup in 1974 and died under suspicious circumstances a year later.

    After returning from the Peace Corps in 1965, Church practiced at Foley & Lardner in Milwaukee for three years. But the teaching bug had bitten. “I liked practice,” he says, “but I liked teaching more.”

    He joined the U.W. Law School faculty in 1968 and remains there today, teaching comparative law, constitutional law, legal processes, and property law. “I teach not so much the law itself,” he says. “That’s changing all the time, and it’s written down. You can look it up. I try to teach how to deal with the law, how to argue it, litigate it, give advice to clients, negotiate … how to think.”

    He’s also lectured or taught law on five continents during his career. That includes a stretch in 1971-72 in Afghanistan, where he was supposed to teach at the law school in Kabul. He was there two weeks before mayhem erupted.

    “There were groups of students and teachers who began to not listen to each other,” he says. Tensions grew between those who were forebears of today’s Taliban and others who followed Communist doctrine. Shouting turned into throwing rocks and then shooting bullets, foreshadowing worse turmoil to come. The university closed, and instead of teaching, Church spent the year advising the Afghan supreme court.

    Given Church’s interests, if he hadn’t pursued a teaching career, he might have joined the U.S. Foreign Service. But he’s never doubted that teaching is his niche. “I liked teaching from the start,” he says. “I enjoy the flexibility and the stimulation.”

    N. Patrick Crooks

    N. Patrick Crooks: The desire to move from private practice to the bench was spurred by “the idea of wanting the opportunity to have an impact.”

    N. Patrick Crooks: Seeking to Have an Impact

    A proclivity for the law seems to be part of the Crooks family’s DNA. “My father always said that he wished he’d been able to be a lawyer,” recalls N. Patrick Crooks, a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice. “But he was from a family of 12 children, so he never had the opportunity” to advance his education.

    Crooks did what his father was never able to do, and now five of his six children also have become lawyers. For them, “I think it was sibling rivalry, to be honest with you,” he says.

    Crooks, a Green Bay native and St. Norbert College graduate, got his J.D. from the University of Notre Dame. After graduation, he worked for a couple of months in a Green Bay law firm before going on active duty in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. After finishing training at Ft. Benning, Ga., to become an infantry officer, he attended the Army’s legal school at the University of Virginia. He then served for two-and-a-half years at the Pentagon in the Army’s Office of the Judge Advocate General. 

    By 1966, he was back in private practice in Green Bay, where he remained for 11 years. His experiences with problems he saw in the juvenile justice system spurred him to consider becoming a county judge. “Several people urged me to put in my name for an appointment,” Crooks says.

    Governor Martin Schreiber appointed Crooks to the Brown County Court, soon to become the Brown County Circuit Court under the new system. The desire to move from private practice to the bench was spurred by “the idea of wanting the opportunity to have an impact,” Crooks says.

    After 19 years on the circuit court, he decided to throw his hat in the ring, along with six other primary candidates, to run for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1996. He eventually emerged the victor and got re-elected in 2006 without opposition.

    As a member of the state’s highest court, one “can have a wider impact,” Crooks says. “On a collegial court, you can sometimes convince others to come to what you think is the right decision. You have an impact in terms of the way you write opinions. You’re setting precedent on a statewide level. I think all of those things are important.”

    Frank Tuerkheimer

    Frank Tuerkheimer: “The idea of litigating and doing it because you wanted to, not because you had to make the mortgage payment, struck me as really attractive.”

    Frank Tuerkheimer: Blending Classroom and Courtroom

    When asked what he’s doing these days, Frank Tuerkheimer replies, “I’m teaching evidence at the New York Law School. I just filed a brief in our Alabama death penalty case (which he’s been involved in since 1997). I’m continuing to do research and writing about Holocaust trials and just published an article in the Loyola of Los Angeles International Comparative Law Review. And I do a lot of biking.”

    In other words, Tuerkheimer’s life is almost as multifarious now as it was when he was a professor at the U.W. Law School, which he left in 2009. Since 2000, he and wife Barbara, also an attorney, have split their time about evenly between Madison and New York City.

    Tuerkheimer readily admits that many of his early law career choices were “by default.” By 1970, when he was an assistant U.S. attorney in New York, he decided he’d like to try teaching law. The U.W. Law School had an opening, and he got the job.

    He taught there for 39 years, taking leave in 1973-75 to join the Watergate prosecution team, which he viewed as a chance to be involved in a significant historical event. “I appreciated the law school’s tremendous flexibility in allowing me to do that,” Tuerkheimer says.

    He’ll return to the law school this fall to teach a special seminar on Watergate, bringing in John Dean, Nixon’s White House Counsel, to join in the discussion for one session.

    Tuerkheimer took another leave when President Carter appointed him to be a U.S. attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin from 1977-81. Then it was back to teaching. But Tuerkheimer also wanted to continue litigation work. So, in 1985, he assumed of-counsel status at LaFollette Sinykin (now Godfrey & Kahn) in Madison.

    “The idea of litigating and doing it because you wanted to, not because you had to make the mortgage payment, struck me as really attractive,” he says.

    He litigated a number of diverse cases over many years, which he found to be an excellent complement to his teaching. “The beauty of it was that I was teaching what I was doing,” he says.

    What Tuerkheimer has found most rewarding about his law career is “an amalgam of everything,” he says. “I think what’s most satisfying is working with the law and ending up with people feeling that the system works. That doesn’t happen all the time. But when it does, it’s very uplifting to be a part of that.”

    Others 50-year Members Honored

    The State Bar honors more than 100 Wisconsin-licensed lawyers who pass the 50-year milestone in the legal profession at today’s celebration in Delafield. A reception begins at 11:30 a.m., followed by lunch. According to the State Bar’s records, the following lawyers were admitted to the bar in 1963.

    Charlotte Adelman, Wilmette, Ill.
    Dale W. Arenz, Waukesha
    Carl W. Backus, Milwaukee
    Gary A. Bader, Park Falls
    James J. Barden, Cherry Hill, N.J.
    Kenneth R. Baumgartner, Kenosha
    Robert F. Berger, Virginia, Minn.
    Robert J. Bonner, Milwaukee
    Charles R. Brown, Washington, D.C.
    Lawrence J. Bugge, Madison
    John L. Castellani, Milwaukee
    Richard Joseph Chadwick, Chanhassen, Minn.
    David S. Chernoff, Chicago
    William L. Church, Madison
    Wendell W. Clancy, Saint Charles, Ill.
    Felice Davis Cohen, Washington, D.C.
    Harry B. Conlon Jr., De Pere
    Hon. Barbara B. Crabb, Madison
    Frank T. Crivello, Naples, Fla.
    Justice Neil Patrick Crooks, Madison
    Peter N. Davis, Columbia, Mo.
    Bernard T. Decker, Orlando, Fla.
    Lawrence J. Downer, Couderay
    Jerome E. Duckler, Milwaukee
    Lawrence W. Durning, Eau Claire
    Howard E. Dutcher, Wautoma
    James O. Ebbeson, Sturgeon Bay
    Paul B. Edwards, Burlington
    James N. Effland, Green Bay
    Hon. William F. Eich, Madison
    John F. Englund, Iron Mountain, Mich.
    Jerry A. Fine, Milwaukee
    Thomas J. Fink, Menasha
    Frederick W. Fischer, Eau Claire
    Timothy C. Frautschi, Milwaukee
    Bernard R. Fredrickson, Lake Nebagamon
    Mark A. Gehring, Milwaukee
    Jon Peter Genrich, Minneapolis
    William M. Graham, Libertyville, Ill.
    Everett B. Hale, Medford
    Robert H. Halvorsen, Sheboygan
    Jerry Haushalter, Las Vegas
    Phillip J. Hellmuth, Madison
    Theodore J. Hodan, Milwaukee
    Wm. Pharis Horton, Madison
    James O. Huber, Hartland
    Elenie K. Huszagh, Chicago
    Allan E. Iding, Milwaukee
    Bruce E. Johnson, Los Angeles
    George W. Johnson, Eagle River
    R. Gilman Johnson, Ingleside, Ill.
    Richard W. Johnson, Red Wing, Minn.
    Eugene L. Kaluzny, Milwaukee
    Thomas C. Kilgore, Ripon
    John J. Kircher, Milwaukee
    Thomas L. Kissel, Hartford
    James W. Kolka, Marietta, Ga.
    Thomas N. Kostner, Bloomer
    George E. Krippner, Geneva, Ill.
    Terrence J. Kurtzweil, Reedsburg
    Harvey I. Lapin, Northbrook, Ill.
    Charles R. Larsen, Mc Farland
    Gerald J. Lenoble, Milwaukee
    Phillip M. Lev, San Mateo, Calif.
    David Loeffler, Milwaukee
    James R. Long, Appleton

    James L. Lowe, Aspen, Colo.
    Arthur F. Lubke Jr., Waukesha
    James D. MacDonald, Union Grove
    Allan O. Maki, Venice, Fla.
    Stephen M. Margolin, Chicago
    Donald E. Mayew, Kenosha
    Angus R. McIntyre, Appleton
    James C. McKay Jr., Stoughton
    Mac A. McKichan Jr., Platteville
    Maurice J. McSweeney, Milwaukee
    James Menehan, Monroe
    Arthur B. Mitchel, Pewaukee
    G. Hans Moede III, Milwaukee
    Thomas Gerald Moher, Sault Sainte Marie, Mich.
    Russ R. Mueller, Glendale
    Robert G. Munro, Grand Rapids, Mich.
    William J. Neely, Newtown, Pa.
    Hon. Gerald Charles Nichol, Madison
    Hon. John M. Nolan, Merrill
    Richard W. Nuernberg, Madison
    John N. O'Brien, Delavan
    John L. O'Brien, Eagle River
    Terence J. O'Loughlin, Saint Paul, Minn.
    David R. Olson, Milwaukee
    John O. Olson, Lake Geneva
    Joseph R. Olson, Kenosha
    Douglas C. Pearce, Dubuque, Iowa
    Barton M. Peck, Glendale
    Robert F. Penn, Stevens Point
    Costa Perchem, Dover, N.J.
    Raymond S.E. Pushkar, Washington, D.C.
    Jerome E. Randall, Wauwatosa
    Richard C. Ruppin, Merrimac
    Robert J. Ruth, Verona
    Barbara Faith Sachs, West Des Moines, Iowa
    Russell C. Schallert, Mequon
    William E. Schirger, Pecatonica, Ill.
    Philip F. Schlichting, Naples, Fla.
    Neal E. Schmidt, Cape Neddick, Maine
    Alan P. Schrinsky, Whitefish Bay
    Frederick Schubert, La Crosse
    J. Richard Sendik, Naples, Fla.
    David Henry Simon, Los Angeles
    George D. Simos, Oconomowoc
    Sidney Sodos, Brookfield
    Michael B. Spitz, Attleboro, Mass.
    Martin R. Stein, Milwaukee
    Michael I. Tarnoff, Milwaukee
    H. Dale Thieben, Madison
    Timothy A. Tierney, Madison
    Leonard A. Tokus, Milwaukee
    Roy T. Traynor, Elcho
    Joel Trosch, Arlington, Va.
    Frank M. Tuerkheimer, Madison
    R. Dirk Van Horne, Raleigh, N.C.
    John M. Waggoner, Madison
    Van B. Wake Jr., Wausau
    John J. Wargo, Racine
    Walter G. Wefel Jr., Wisconsin Rapids
    Harvey L. Wendel, Madison
    Richard W. Westring, Washington Island
    William S. Wiener, Milwaukee
    Roy S. Wilcox, Madison
    Leo Wotan Jr., Elgin, Ill.
    Gerald E. Wright, San Francisco
    Dale G. Zimmerman, Naperville, Ill.