Sept. 22, 2015 – Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice N. Patrick Crooks passed away yesterday in his chambers at the State Capitol in Madison. He was 77. Friends and colleagues will remember him as a hardworking and thoughtful decision-maker.
Justice Crooks, whose work in the legal profession spanned 52 years, announced just last week that he would retire after his term ended on July 31, 2016. First elected in 1996 and again in 2006, Crooks served 19 years on the supreme court bench.
“Justice Crooks was an outstanding jurist, a thoughtful decision-maker and a colleague with a wonderful Irish sense of humor,” said Chief Justice Patience Roggensack.
“In addition to having served as a circuit court judge and on the Supreme Court, Justice Crooks made significant contributions to the legal profession as a lawyer and a teacher. He was a good friend and colleague, and he will be greatly missed by all.”
Before oral arguments today (Sept. 22), the court honored Justice Crooks with a moment of silence. Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who became chief justice the year Crooks joined the bench, read aloud one of Justice Crooks’s last writings, which explained that judges must remain independent in a politicized environment.
“That’s what he wrote, that’s what he lived by, that’s why we’re here,” Justice Abrahamson said of Crooks.
Last week, following Justice Crooks's retirement announcement, State Bar of Wisconsin President Ralph Cagle noted Justice Crooks’s significant contributions to the legal profession and the Wisconsin justice system. He echoed those sentiments today.
“On behalf of the State Bar of Wisconsin, I would like to express my sincere sadness over the recent passing of Justice N. Patrick Crooks. Our thoughts and condolences go out to Justice Crooks’ family during this difficult time,” Cagle said.
“As the legal community reflects upon Justice Crooks and his 38 years on the bench, I think we all can agree that he was both thoughtful and deliberate,” Cagle noted.
“Anyone who argued cases before Justice Crooks knew he was an important decision-maker, and stood for balance on the bench. During his nearly two decades on the supreme court, Justice Crooks demonstrated an unmatched love of the profession and the law. His great wit and compassion will certainly be missed.”
Career in Service
N. Patrick Crooks, a native of Green Bay, graduated from St. Norbert College in 1960 (history major) and completed the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. He also earned a scholarship to attend the University of Notre Dame Law School.
Before graduating from law school in 1963, third in his class, Crooks spent the summer of 1962 as a law intern for the Internal Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C., which was headed by then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
After law school, Crooks practiced law briefly in Green Bay, but quickly entered active duty for the U.S. Army. He trained to be an infantry officer and completed the Army’s legal school at the University of Virginia before obtaining a post in Washington D.C.
From 1964 to 1966, as a young lawyer, he served as a U.S. Army Officer, in the Office of Judge Advocate General at the Pentagon. He returned to Wisconsin and spent 11 years in private practice, first with a small Green Bay law firm and later in solo practice, and taught business law courses at U.W.-Green Bay while raising his growing family.
In 1977, Gov. Martin J. Schreiber appointed Crooks to the Brown County court bench. He won election to the newly formed Brown County Circuit Court in 1978, winning reelections in 1985 and 1991. During his 19 years as a trial judge, Crooks presiding over nearly 300 jury trials, and was named Trial Judge of the Year by the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates in 1994.
Former State Bar President George Burnett (2003-04) of Green Bay remembers Crooks as a thoughtful and hardworking trial judge who took the time to get it right.
“I knew Justice Crooks both from experience at the supreme court and when he was a circuit court judge in Green Bay,” Burnett said. “I probably tried a dozen cases before him and handled many other matters before him that didn’t go to trial. In my opinion, he was one of the hardest working judges in Wisconsin.”
“You would appear in then-Judge Crooks’s court, and you would know, first, that he had read whatever you had submitted, second, that he thought about it, and third, that would take the time to listen thoroughly to your argument before making definitive rulings.”
In 1996, Wisconsin voters elected Crooks to a 10-year term on the supreme court. He was reelected in 2006, and would have completed his second term next summer.
Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jon P. Wilcox, who served on the supreme court bench with Justice Crooks for almost 12 years and knew him for 40 years, said Justice Crooks was a wonderful friend and an excellent legal scholar.
“He was an outstanding member of the court,” said Wilcox. “He tried to build consensus on the court, and always delivered well-reasoned opinions.”
“Most of the time we agreed on things, and other times we agreed to disagree,” he said. “Pat was a dear friend of mine for many years. My sympathy goes out to his family.”
In addition to his service on the bench, Justice Crooks was a long-standing board member of the Wisconsin Law Foundation (WLF), the charitable arm of the State Bar of Wisconsin. He served on various WLF committees over the course of almost 40 years.
Justice Crooks left the board in June and will be honored, along with Justice Wilcox, at an upcoming WLF Fellows Recognition Dinner for their service on the board.
Justice Crooks is survived by his wife, six children, and 21 grandchildren. Read more about Justice Crooks in his obituary, which includes information about funeral and memorial services.