Aisle-Crossing Wisconsin Judge to Step Down

     MADISON, Wis. (CN) – A justice with a reputation for crossing the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative aisle revealed retirement plans Wednesday.
     Justice N. Patrick Crooks will have been on the state Supreme Court for 20 years when he retires at the end of his term in 2016. He served 19 years before that on the Brown County Circuit Court after his appointment by a Democratic governor, but Crooks ran for the state Supreme Court post as a conservative.
     Crooks is one of four conservatives on the seven-person court but has sided with Democrats in the fight over the court’s chief justice chair this year.
     When Crooks joined in 1996, the Supreme Court selected its chief justice based on seniority, and Justice Shirley Abrahamson held that honor every year thereafter.
     Abrahamson was forced out of the post this past April after a ballot measure brought a vote-based selection system into effect.
     With four of Crooks’ colleagues submitting email votes to have Justice Patience Drake Roggensack replace Abramson as chief, Crooks joined the liberal Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in not participating in the vote.
     Abrahamson and her supporters challenge the ouster as a violation of the justice’s civil rights. They are appealing to the Seventh Circuit after a federal judge dismissed this claim.
     An attorney for Abrahamson declined to comment on Crooks’ retirement plans.
     When U.S. District Judge James Peterson was considering whether to block Abrahamson’s ouster, Crooks broke ranks with his fellow conservative justices and wrote a letter encouraging the federal judge to take over the court’s current “chaotic situation.”
     Crooks also dissented when the court halted a lengthy secret investigation into allegations of campaign-finance abuse by Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican presidential hopeful. Some of the groups whose support of Walker is at issue also contributed to the campaigns of Supreme Court justices.
     John Doe investigations, as they are known, are a function of Wisconsin law that allows prosecutors to gather information to determine whether a crime was committed and who may have been involved.

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