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Court/District History



History of the Federal Court in the Western District of Wisconsin


Congress created the 44-county Western District of Wisconsin in 1870 by dividing the state into two judicial districts.


The first courthouse was located in Madison at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and the Capitol Square. The court was relocated in 1929 to a new federal courthouse at 215 Monona Avenue. The current courthouse was opened in 1985. On July 29, 1991 The House of Representatives passed Bill H.R. 948 designating the current U.S. courthouse located at 120 North Henry Street in Madison, Wisconsin as the "Robert W. Kastenmeier United States Courthouse," in honor of the congressman who represented Wisconsin’s Second District from 1959-1991.


The first person to fill the single judgeship created for the Western District was James C. Hopkins, a Madison resident appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant. Following Judge Hopkins, eight more judges presided before the current Chief District Judge. Judge David Rabinovitz was appointed by President Johnson but was never confirmed by the Senate. After his appointment lapsed, President Johnson appointed James E. Doyle. Although the court’s caseload would have justified a second judgeship in the mid-60's, it was not until 1979 that Congress approved a second position. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed Barbara B. Crabb to that position. In 1980, Judge Doyle assumed senior status, allowing Judge Crabb to assume the position of Chief Judge of the district and opening a vacancy for the appointment of another judge. John C. Shabaz filled that vacancy in 1981, when he was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan. Judge Shabaz served as Chief Judge from 1996 until 2001. Judge Crabb again assumed the position of Chief U.S. District Judge in June of 2001. Judge Shabaz assumed senior status in January of 2009. Upon the appointment of her successor in March of 2010, Judge Crabb assumed senior status. Judge William Conley was appointed United States District Judge by President Barack Obama in March of 2010 and assumed the role of Chief Judge. In May of 2014 Judge James Peterson was appointed as District Judge by President Barack Obama.


In 1970, the position of United States Magistrate was created by Congress. The Western District was allotted one part-time Magistrate. Barbara B. Crabb filled that position and continued to serve after United States Magistrate became a full-time position in 1974. William L. Gansner succeeded her in 1980; by this time, the title had changed to "United States Magistrate Judge." He was succeeded by R. James Groh in 1984. Stephen L. Crocker was appointed in 1992.



District Judges of the Western District of Wisconsin



Dates                           Judge                                    Appointed By                                     

1870-1877                   James C. Hopkins                   President Grant

1877-1905                   Romanzo Bunn                       President Hayes

1905-1920                   Arthur L. Sanborn                   President T. Roosevelt

1921-1932                   Claude Z. Luse                       President Harding

1933-1963                   Patrick T. Stone                      President F. Roosevelt

1964                            David Rabinovitz                     President Johnson

1965-1987                   James E. Doyle                       President Johnson

1979-                           Barbara B. Crabb                    President Carter

1981-2012                   John C. Shabaz                       President Reagan

2010-                           William M. Conley                    President Obama

2014-                           James D. Peterson                  President Obama




Clerks of Court for the Western District of Wisconsin


Dates                     Clerk                                                          

1870-1896             Frank N. Stewart

1896-1921             Major F.W. Oakley

1921-1924             William E. Comerford

1924-1947             Herbert C. Hale

1947-1957             Edward M. Alstad

1957-1965             Lucille M. Alstad

1965-1971             John R. Adams

1971-2003             Joseph W. Skupniewitz

2003-2008             Theresa M. Owens

2008 -                    Peter A. Oppeneer



An excellent publication on the history of the judiciary, "Creating the Federal Judicial System," by Russell R. Wheeler and Cynthia Harrison, is available for viewing here.