- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 16, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Patrick Crooks said Wednesday that he won’t seek a third 10-year term, choosing to end his nearly 39-year career as a judge.

Crooks, 77, said in a statement he will retire rather than seek re-election this spring. His term ends July 31, the same day he plans to retire, he said.

Crooks’ decision opens the door for challengers Rebecca Bradley, a state appellate judge; Joanne Kloppenburg, another state appellate judge; and Joe Donald, a Milwaukee County circuit judge. The three will still have to square off in a Feb. 16 primary, but they’re now assured of not having to face an incumbent in that contest or the April 5 general election.

The race is officially nonpartisan, but Bradley has conservatives’ support and Kloppenburg has Democratic backing. Donald is seen as an independent. The winner won’t change the balance of power on the court; four of the court’s seven justices lean conservative and none of them are up for election this spring.

Crooks, a Green Bay native, earned his law degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1963. He served as an attorney for the Army and worked in private practice before then-Acting Gov. Martin Schreiber appointed him to the Brown County bench in 1977. He won election to the state Supreme Court in 1996 and re-election in 2006.

He has typically been seen as a swing vote between the conservative majority and liberal-leaning justices Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley. He has kept a low profile over the years, steering clear of the bitter feud between the court’s conservative and liberal factions that came to a head in 2011 when conservative-leaning Justice David Prosser wrapped his hands around Ann Walsh Bradley’s throat during an argument.

Kloppenburg, who mounted an unsuccessful challenge against Prosser in 2011, released a statement Wednesday thanking Crooks for his service. Donald released a statement as well, calling Crooks “a stalwart of the Wisconsin judiciary” and praised him for deciding cases based on the law rather than on conservative or liberal ideology.

“He is an independent judge, and that legacy is what I hope to carry on,” he said.

Rebecca Bradley registered as a candidate on Tuesday, according to state election officials. Asked for comment on Crooks’ retirement decision, a campaign spokeswoman would say only that Bradley had filed her candidacy paperwork for what is now an open seat and Bradley would answer questions at a news conference Thursday.


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