Pubdate: Wed, 10 Oct 2007
Source: Wisconsin State Journal (WI)
Copyright: 2007 Madison Newspapers, Inc.
Author: Kevin Murphy


After 25 years on the bench, U.S. District Judge John Shabaz says 
he's ready to scale back his caseload and President Bush should start 
looking for his successor.

In a letter to Bush dated Oct. 4, Shabaz, 76, said he will assume 
senior status if the U.S. Senate confirms his successor by Jan. 20, 
2009, Bush's last day in office.

A federal judge can leave active status and take senior status 
beginning at age 65, said Joel Turner, deputy U.S. clerk for the 
Western District of Wisconsin. The senior designation means the judge 
takes on a reduced workload.

It also creates a vacancy for a judge on active status, and some 
local attorneys suggested that Shabaz -- a former Republican state 
representative who is known as a conservative and cantankerous jurist 
- -- might withdraw his resignation if his successor's nomination 
stalls in the Senate.

"The timing of his announcement is probably personal and practical," 
said Christopher Van Wagner, a former federal prosecutor in Madison 
and now a defense attorney. "He knows how the system works and 
doesn't want to throw everything up in the air and just see how it 
lands. He can't safeguard who comes in after he leaves, but it is 
possible for someone with a similar political persuasion to come in that way."

Shabaz, though, said his request wasn't conditional and denied that 
the terms of his request give him some wiggle room. "I haven't said 
that and you would be wrong to say that. I've made it as clear and as 
I could," he said.

Shabaz graduated from Marquette University Law School. He was a state 
representative from 1964 until 1981, when then-President Reagan 
appointed him to serve as a federal judge.

The Senate confirmed him a month later and he replaced James E. 
Doyle, father of current Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle.

On senior status, Shabaz could greatly reduce his caseload, which he 
said was the purpose of his letter.

"I was at a law school banquet in downtown Milwaukee and looking 
around the number of graduates in attendance was about equal to the 
number that had died. After 25 years as a judge, it may get that way, 
too," he said.

'The Rocket Docket'

Judge Barbara Crabb, who also serves in the Western District, said 
Shabaz is a speedy worker, leading the Western District to be known 
as the "rocket docket."

"He's made us the fastest court in the country," Crabb said. "He has 
a quite unique ability to see to the nub of a problem. I think he 
understands cases sometimes better than lawyers. He just doesn't let 
people go on and on in court. He just cuts the chaff out."

"That's a great savings to taxpayers and certainly for jurors whose 
lives are interrupted by a trial," she added. "It's hard on lawyers, 
but after they've tried a case with him, they're used to it."

Madison defense attorney Dennis Ryan said he 's become so used to the 
pace in Shabaz's courtroom he's uncomfortable working in other courts 
where there is more time.

"He is no pushover," Ryan said. "He makes you work hard. You have to 
go in there prepared. You have to go in there very cognizant. He 
looks at you critically."

"He's a trial lawyer's kind of judge," Van Wagner said. "He demands 
punctuality, he expects brevity and he insists on everyone's 
awareness of the presence of the jury being the most important thing."

Competent and prepared attorneys are allowed to try their cases as 
they see fit and Shabaz only steps in to "prevent injustice or 
inordinate delay and not necessarily in that order, " Van Wagner 
said. Attorneys are advised to leave their egos outside the courtroom 
and be prepared to defend their clients and viewpoints before Shabaz.

"He's more than willing to change his mind if you bring him valid 
reasons. He's decisive but willing to reconsider a position if he 's 
given a reason to do so. He 'll always be sure to let the lawyer know 
he should have brought those reasons in the first place," said Van Wagner.

Tough on Drugs

Known as a tough sentencer, Shabaz tends to give out lengthy prison 
terms for drug crimes in contrast to Crabb, who has called the 
sentences of some drug crimes "Draconian. "

Ryan, who works before federal judges in Madison, Milwaukee and 
Rockford, Ill., said that may be because he is from "an older generation."

That "may certainly play into harder approaches in the drug sentences 
that I've seen," Ryan said. "But between being in his court and Judge 
Crabb's, I don't know what it would be like to sit and listen to this 
stuff day after day. It must have an effect on someone."

Some attorneys have said Shabaz has become less focused at times, 
confusing names of defendants and attorneys. But both Ryan and Van 
Wagner said Shabaz remains mentally sharp and they look forward to 
practicing before him.

"He would bring up things that have escaped me on cases that I 've 
lived with for several months, " Ryan said. "I haven 't noticed any 
falloff in his abilities."



Some of the high-profile cases in which U.S. District Judge John 
Shabaz has ruled since he was named judge in 1981:

1982: A federal jury awarded $196,500 to a state employee who was a 
victim of sexual harassment, but Shabaz ordered the award reduced to 
$25,000, stating the court "doesn 't believe that in isolated 
incidents, excessive damages will solve the problem.  "

1985: Shabaz sentenced Madison massage parlor figure Samuel Cerro to 
45 years in prison on eight counts of tax evasion and conspiracy to 
distribute cocaine through massage parlors.

1985: Shabaz effectively eliminated the state's ban on forced 
retirements of people 70 or over by ruling that federal law, which 
only prohibits forced retirements for people under age 70, pre-empts 
state regulation.

1987: In the harshest sentence handed down to a draft resister since 
registration resumed in 1980, Shabaz sentenced Gillam Kerley to three 
years in prison and fined him $10,000. Kerley spent four months in 
prison before his conviction was overturned.

1995: Shabaz ruled that Shoreline Park Preservation had no case 
against the Army Corps of Engineers. Shoreline filed a lawsuit 
claiming the corps violated Clean Water Act guidelines when it 
awarded a permit to allow dredging to place pilings in the bed of 
Lake Monona to build Monona Terrace.

1999: Shabaz ruled that the state law banning "partial-birth 
abortion" was constitutional, but he barred enforcement of the law 
pending appeal. Shabaz said evidence submitted before and during a 
trial compelled him to draw a different conclusion from that reached 
the previous November by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

2000: Shabaz ordered a 4-foot-high wrought-iron fence be put up 
around a statue of Jesus Christ on property that used to be part of a 
Marshfield park. Shabaz issued the decision in a lawsuit filed by the 
Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of Marshfield resident 
Clarence Reinders. The foundation wanted a 10-foot cement wall around 
the statue while the city wanted a 3-foot fence.

2000: Shabaz ruled the fee distribution system used by the University 
of Wisconsin System was not "viewpoint neutral" and therefore the 
mandatory fee was unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. 
Viewpoint neutrality refers to whether the student fees -- used for 
extracurricular speech and other expressive activities -- are 
distributed without regard to the receiving student group's viewpoint 
and are accessible to all student groups.

2007: Shabaz ruled judicial candidates in Wisconsin can discuss their 
beliefs on the campaign trail as long as they don't promise to rule 
one way or another. Advocates for openness praised the decision, 
saying it could give voters a better idea of what judicial candidates 
stand for.

- -- State Journal research by Ron Larson
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake