Thursday, September 20, 2018

Christena O’Brien

Eau Claire County has long judicial history

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    Eau Claire County's long judicial history is on display on the second floor of the Courthouse, 721 Oxford Ave.

    Staff photo by Christena T. O'Brien
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This summer, I watched as employees at the Eau Claire County Courthouse removed photos of judges from the walls on the court floor, repainted and started putting pictures back up.

Surprisingly, there were more photos than I remembered — 26, actually. Below the framed portraits, many of them in black and white, a plaque listed biographical information about each. There also were four biographies without photos.

In recent weeks, I’ve taken the time to read through each, especially those who served long before I ever existed, and all of them had interesting histories. Here are a few:

Connor Hansen, who served as a county judge from 1958-67, was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, becoming the first county judge ever to be appointed from that position to the Supreme Court. He also was the first Supreme Court justice from Eau Claire County.

George Blum, a county judge from 1901-39, was the first Eau Claire County judge born and raised in Eau Claire.

August Larson was the first immigrant to be seated on the bench in Eau Claire. Born in Norway, Larson, a county judge from 1887-96, came to the United States as a young boy.

In more recent years, Karl Peplau, both a county and a circuit judge, was known for “his whimsical sense of humor and common-sense approach to justice.”

He announced to a full courtroom daily, “This is your court,” told litigants and defendants they had a fine attorney and called lawyers appearing before him “distinguished” or “honorable.”

Lisa Stark became Eau Claire County’s first female judge in 2000. In 2013, she was elected to the 3rd District Court of Appeals.

Eau Claire County Judge Shaughnessy Murphy became the youngest circuit court judge in the state and the youngest in Eau Claire County history when he was appointed to the bench by Gov. Scott Walker in 2017.

Some of the former county and circuit judges also served district attorneys and on city council, civic boards or in the state Legislature, and a few died while serving on the bench.

Here are those who have served:

• Lucien Porter Wetherby, circuit judge, 1860-66.

• William Pitt Bartlett, county judge, 1861.

• John Stillman, county judge, 1862-65.

• Horace Barnes, county judge, 1866-68.

• Herman Humphrey, circuit judge, 1866-77.

• George Teall, county judge, 1868-73 and 1880-86.

• Arthur Ellis, county judge, 1874-80.

• Alfred Newman, circuit judge, 1877-78.

• Egbert Bundy, circuit judge, 1878-91.

• August Larson, county judge, 1887-96.

• William Bailey, circuit judge, 1892-97.

• Martin Hubbard, county judge, 1897-1901.

• James O’Neill, circuit judge, 1898-1909.

• George Blum, county judge, 1901-39.

• James Wickham, circuit judge, 1910-42.

• Merrill Farr, county judge, 1939-58; circuit judge, 1958-76.

• Clarence Rinehard, circuit judge, 1942-58.

• Connor Hansen, county judge, 1958-67; Supreme Court, 1967-81.

• Karl Peplau, county judge 1972-78; circuit judge, 1978-83.

• William O’Brien, county judge, 1976-78; circuit judge, 1978-92.

• Gregory Peterson, circuit judge, 1983-99.

• Thomas Barland, county judge, 1967-76; circuit judge, 1976-2000.

• Eric Wahl, circuit judge, 1993-2007.

• Benjamin Proctor, circuit judge, 1988-2011.

• Lisa Stark, circuit judge, 2000-13.

• Kristina Bourget, circuit judge, 2013-15.

• Brian Wright, circuit judge, 2015-16.

• Paul Lenz, circuit judge, 1994-2017.

• Shaughnessy Murphy, circuit judge, 2017-18.

• William Gabler, circuit judge, 1999-2018.


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