- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Patrick Crooks, a stoic and neutral presence on a bitterly divided high court, died Monday in the state Capitol. He was 77.

Crooks died in his chambers, Chief Justice Patience Roggensack said in a statement. She didn’t offer any further details and court spokesman Tom Sheehan didn’t immediately return email and voicemail messages. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Crooks came into work for an administrative hearing but excused himself before it was over and was later found dead in his chambers.

“Justice Crooks was an outstanding jurist, a thoughtful decision-maker and a colleague with a wonderful Irish sense of humor,” Roggensack said in her statement. “He was a good friend and colleague, and he will be greatly missed by all.”

Justice Annette Ziegler issued a statement saying Crooks had a keen legal mind as well as a sense of humor.

“While we will all remember him for his legal prowess, I will miss his quick wit,” she said.

Gov. Scott Walker offered condolences to Crooks’ family ahead of a news conference to announce his departure from the presidential race.

Crooks announced last week that he wouldn’t run for a third 10-year term and instead planned to retire when his current term ended in July 2016.

A Green Bay native, Crooks earned his law degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1963. He served as an Army attorney 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 again in 2006.

He was typically seen as a swing vote between the four-justice conservative majority and liberal-leaning justices Shirley Abrahamson and Anne Walsh Bradley. He kept a low profile, steering clear of the bickering between two factions that culminated in 2011 when conservative-leaning Justice David Prosser wrapped his hands around Bradley’s throat during an argument.

Crooks and his wife, Kris, have four daughters and two sons.

Three people are running for Crooks’ seat, including Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald and state appellate judges JoAnne Kloppenburg and Rebecca Bradley. The primary is Feb. 16. The top two vote-getters will advance to the April 5 general election.

Donald issued a statement saying he was devastated to hear of Crooks’ death, saying Crooks was devoted to the law. Kloppenburg said in a statement that she was “shocked and saddened.” Bradley’s campaign didn’t immediately return email and voicemail messages.

Walker has the power to appoint someone to fill Crooks’ seat ahead of the election, according to state elections officials. Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said late Monday afternoon that the governor would decide what to do “at a more appropriate time.”

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