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  • July 20, 2012

    Hon. Thomas J. Curran Dies, Former State Bar President – Federal Judge With a Natural Air of Impartiality

    Deb Heneghan

    July 20, 2012 – Thomas J. Curran, 88, senior judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin and former State Bar of Wisconsin president, passed away on July 17. Curran was in private practice for 35 years in Mauston and was nominated by President Reagan and appointed to the bench with unanimous Senate approval in 1983.

    Thomas J. Curran

    The State Bar

    Curran’s service to the State Bar included several terms on the Board of Governors and a term as State Bar president, 1972-73. He was a member of the State Judicial Commission, the Wisconsin Judicial Council, and the Governor’s Commission on Crime and Law Enforcement.

    Former State Bar President Myron LaRowe said, “I have known Tom Curran for more than 47 years and during that time he has always been fair, courteous, and prepared, as a practitioner or as a judge. As a former president, he was always a strong supporter of the State Bar in whatever activity it engaged in and readily assisted whenever he was asked. He will be missed by our profession and by all who had the privilege of knowing him.”

    A Fellow of the Wisconsin Law Foundation (WLF), Curran received the Truman Q. McNulty Award from the Foundation in 2007 for a lifetime of distinguished service to the legal profession, the State Bar, the state, and the nation for leadership in educating the public on the rule of law.

    “Judge Curran was a gentleman of the best kind in an old-fashioned way. He was considerate of others and always listened to both sides with respect and patience. He had a great love of the Trial Court American College of Trial Lawyers and of the State Bar, and he brought a sense of pride to everything he did with his natural air of impartiality,” recalled former State Bar President and WLF Fellow Franklyn Gimbel who appeared before Curran many times.

    The Bench

    During his 22 years as a federal district court judge, Curran presided over many noteworthy cases, among them the Milwaukee Metropolitan School District desegregation case and the constitutional challenge to the funding of the Brewer’s then-proposed new baseball stadium.

    Curran also served on a three-judge panel that redistricted Wisconsin’s Senate and Assembly districts, and on several occasions, by designation, on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

    “He was a dedicated public servant in every sense of the word. He was respectful of all litigants and always gave everyone, no matter what their station, the opportunity to speak,” said the Hon. J.P. Stadtmueller, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin, who not only was a colleague of Curran’s but also appeared in Curran’s courtroom as a U.S. attorney in criminal and civil cases.

    Thomas J. Curran

    Portrait artist James Ingwersen.

    The Early Years and The Family of Many Lawyers

    Born and raised in Mauston, Curran enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and served in the Pacific Theater of Operation until his discharge in 1946. Upon graduation from Marquette University Law School in 1948, he joined his brothers, Charles and William, in private practice in Mauston with an emphasis on trial work.

    Three of Curran’s children and two grandsons joined the legal profession. His son William T. Curran and daughter, Catherine C. Orton, are partners at the family’s 75-year-old firm, now Curran, Hollenbeck & Orton S.C., and son Paul left the firm in 2008 to follow in his father’s judicial footsteps as a Juneau County Circuit Court judge. William, following his father’s lead, is on the State Bar Board of Governors.

    Grandson Richard Orton, U.W. 2012, remembered his grandfather with these thoughts. “He will be greatly missed. As a young lawyer, I particularly cherished our frequent discussions on law, public policy, and politics. He was the consummate gentleman. Whether he was on the bench, heading to a Marquette basketball game, talking to a complete stranger, or playing with his grandchildren, ‘Papa’ (as we knew him) treated everyone with the same unwavering courtesy, kindness, and good humor. Although he had many professional achievements, my grandfather’s proudest achievement was his family, and while he surely enjoyed presiding over his courtroom in Milwaukee, he absolutely loved presiding over our family gatherings at his lake home, where he routinely entertained his six children, their spouses, and his 16 grandchildren – all at the same time. And as an occasional violator of his strict ‘no hats at the dinner table’ policy, I can assure you that the ‘tight ship’ he ran was not limited to the Eastern District.”

    Services are on Sunday and Monday, for more information read the obituary. The Juneau County Star-Times will publish an in-depth article on Curran’s ties to the Mauston community on Saturday, July 21.


    Deb Heneghan is the reporter for the State Bar of Wisconsin.


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