Jessica Karmasek Sep. 22, 2015, 10:31am


MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) - Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice N. Patrick Crooks died in his chambers at the state Capitol in Madison Monday.

He was 77.

The Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed his death in a news release. The office investigated Crooks’ death and has found it be from natural causes.

According to the Journal Sentinel, Crooks did not appear in person for oral arguments Friday, but listened and participated via Wisconsin Eye, the state’s non-profit, private public affairs cable network.

He showed up for an administrative hearing Monday, but left before the session was over. He was later found dead in his chambers, the newspaper reported.

“Justice Crooks was an outstanding jurist, a thoughtful decision-maker and a colleague with a wonderful Irish sense of humor,” Chief Justice Patience Drake Roggensack said in a statement. “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.”

Justice Annette Kingsland Ziegler expressed similar sentiments.

“Justice Crooks was not only a dedicated public servant with a keen legal mind, but also a colleague with whom I enjoyed a unique professional relationship,” she said in a statement. “While we will all remember him for his legal prowess, I will miss his quick wit and sense of humor.

“Serving with him was an honor and a privilege.”

Just last week, Crooks, who was considered to be a more independent vote on the often divided court, had announced he would not seek another term on the state’s high court. He served more than 30 years as a Wisconsin judge, including nearly 20 years as a state Supreme Court justice.

State Court of Appeals judges JoAnne Kloppenburg and Rebecca Bradley, along with Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Donald, already announced they were running for Crooks’ seat before his announcement.

Kloppenburg said in a statement late Monday she was “shocked and saddened” at the justice’s sudden passing.

“My thoughts are with his family during this difficult time. His daughter is a law clerk at the Court of Appeals and her sadness is ours,” she said. “I have mentored his law clerk and I know how highly he was respected.”

She continued, “In the words of a prayer, ‘So long as we live, they, too, shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.’ May his memory be a blessing.”

According to the Secretary of State’s website, the spring primary is set for Feb. 16, 2016.

Crooks’ current term ends July 31, 2016.

Gov. Scott Walker could appoint someone to the seat before the election or leave it open.

A spokesman for the state’s Government Accountability Board told the Journal Sentinel there would be no special election.

Walker, who issued an executive order Tuesday ordering flags to be flown at half-staff in Crooks’ memory, did not comment on his plans for appointment.

“For almost two decades, Justice Crooks demonstrated his commitment to the citizens of Wisconsin through his service on the state Supreme Court,” Walker said in a statement. “His service extended beyond the bench as well, as Justice Crooks also proudly served his country as an officer in the U.S. Army.

“I am deeply sorry to hear of his passing, and Tonette and I offer our thoughts and prayers to his family and friends at this difficult time.”

Crooks was first elected to the Supreme Court in 1996 and again in 2006. He previously served 19 years on the bench in Brown County and served as a U.S. Army officer at the Pentagon from 1964 to 1966. He also worked in private practice and taught business law at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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