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Justices honor Crooks, no word on replacement

By: Associated Press//September 23, 2015

Justices honor Crooks, no word on replacement

By: Associated Press//September 23, 2015

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court held a moment of silence Tuesday to honor their colleague Patrick Crooks a day after his sudden death, while Gov. Scott Walker remained silent on whether he would appoint a replacement ahead of next spring’s judicial elections.

Crooks, 77, was seen as the most independent voice on a notoriously partisan court that is now controlled by conservatives 4-2. Legal experts said the Republican governor will have to make a quick decision because a vacancy on the court, which is just two weeks into its session, leaves a greater chance that some cases will deadlock.

But the focus at the courthouse Tuesday was honoring Crooks, who died in his chambers of natural causes shortly after excusing himself Monday as the court heard a case. Justice Shirley Abrahamson draped Crooks’ judicial robe over his vacant chair next to hers.

“He was to the state an outstanding legal scholar and dedicated public servant,” Chief Justice Pat Roggensack said just before justices took a moment of silence. “He will be sorely missed.”

Crooks announced last week that he planned to retire next summer, and three judges quickly jumped at the chance to replace him: Court of Appeals judges Rebecca Bradley and JoAnne Kloppenburg, and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Donald.

Walker appointed Bradley to the Milwaukee County Circuit in 2012, and the state appeals court this May. She quickly earned the backing of conservatives in her run for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the spring election.

Walker’s spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, said the governor would decide whether to appoint a judge to replace Crooks “at a more appropriate time.” The governor ordered flags flown at half-staff in Crooks’ memory.

Observers expect Walker will appoint someone before the spring election. Lester Pines, a liberal Madison attorney and longtime court watcher, said doing so would give the appointee all the advantages of incumbency ahead of running for a 10-year term.

“It’s going to be a very spirited campaign,” Pines said Tuesday.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he hoped Walker would move quickly to name a replacement for Crooks, saying: “I don’t think it’s wise for us not to have a full court.”

Vos, who hasn’t endorsed anyone in the race yet, said he didn’t have an opinion on whether Walker should choose from the three announced candidates.

“If that’s the best qualified person, we would certainly want that person on the court,” he said.

Former justice and retired Marquette University law professor Janine Geske said that a vacancy leaves a “large potential” for 3-3 ties. When that happens, she noted, the lower court’s original ruling stands.

Even with seven justices, ties often happen when a justice recuses herself or himself, Geske said.

The court’s term began Sept. 8. Only nine of the court’s scheduled cases had been heard before Crooks’ death.


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