Justice N. Patrick Crooks was the epitome of a lawyer and judge who lived to serve. In his fifty-two-year legal career, he served as a captain in the office of the Judge Advocate General at the Pentagon and then as a lawyer in private practice in Green Bay, before becoming a Brown County circuit court judge and then justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In 1994 he was named Wisconsin Trial Judge of the Year by the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Justice Crooks served on the trial bench for nineteen years and on the Wisconsin Supreme Court from 1996 to his passing, in chambers, last week on September 21.
I was honored to work for Justice Crooks as his clerk during the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s 1999-2000 term.
Justice Crooks approached each case with fresh eyes and an impartial mind. He reasoned through cases carefully and understood that he had a solemn role in deciding a case. Justice Crooks believed in the law and the justice system. Every case was fully analyzed and researched before oral argument. Opinions were to be written to guide lawyers, judges, and Wisconsin citizens. Justice Crooks was proud of his work on the trial bench and felt that his knowledge of the trial courtroom was important to his understanding of cases on appeal.
Justice Crooks was a wonderful teacher. I still remember his lessons in legal writing, which I now use in teaching my classes at Marquette. Justice Crooks took the time to develop his clerks as lawyers and cared about our ability to work as a team.
My clerkship was like a fourth year of law school. Justice Crooks treated me like an equal, listening to my thoughts on cases and thoroughly discussing each case in chambers before and after oral argument. Through those conversations, I learned to value the importance of discussing a case with a person who can be a trusted sounding board.
Not only was Justice Crooks a mentor during my clerkship, but he continued to support me in my work by coming to every moot court at Marquette Law School to which I invited him (unless the Packers were playing in town, and we could usually schedule around that).
Justice Crooks was the consummate family man. During my clerkship, I felt that I got to know his wife and children from all that Justice Crooks told me about them. The last time I saw Justice Crooks was over lunch, and the first thing he did was to give me the news of his wife, children, and grandchildren. He spoke with pride and love of the volunteer activities of his wife, Kris, and their grandchildren’s accomplishments in school and sports, and of course he filled me in on his children’s work. He was pleased that five of his six children followed him into law and always added that his remaining non-lawyer daughter’s work was equally important.
Being a clerk for Justice Crooks I also learned a lot about football. Justice Crooks was one of the great football fans, and a smart clerk learned to watch the Packer, Badger, and Notre Dame games, or at least check the scores before Monday morning. One clerk mentioned at his funeral that she was grateful all three teams won the weekend before he passed away so he could experience that one more time. Justice Crooks had prints in his chambers of famous football games, including the historic Ice Bowl. He liked to tell stories of the Ice Bowl and other moments in Packer history that he had observed first hand.
Justice Crooks was often serious as he worked in chambers, but he also had a ready smile and a quick, impish sense of humor. He was always the Irishman, and I will miss him.