Former justices

Justice John L. Coffey

Justice John L. Coffey

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice: 1978–1981
Life: 1922–2012

John L. Coffey was born April 15, 1922, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He graduated from Marquette University in 1943. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy. He then returned to Marquette University Law School and graduated in 1948.

Coffey was appointed assistant city attorney in 1949 and served until 1954 when he was elected a civil court judge for Milwaukee County. In 1960, he was elected a municipal judge and served until the court reorganization in 1962, when he was elected a circuit judge for Milwaukee County. During his 16 years on the bench in Milwaukee, he served as senior judge and chief presiding judge in the felony division as well as a judge in the civil division.

In 1977, Coffey campaigned for the open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. As part of his campaign, Coffey said that judges needed flexibility in sentencing, while his opponent favored determinate sentencing.

After winning the election, Coffey told The Milwaukee Journal that the vote was a clear message to the state Legislature that "the people of Wisconsin are interested in a system where there is an equal balance between the rights of the defendant and society."

Among his many honors, Coffey was selected as the "Outstanding Man of the Year" by the Milwaukee Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1951.

In 1980, he was awarded the Marquette University Outstanding Law Alumnus of the Year and was selected for membership in Alpha Sigma Nu (National Honor Society). In 1985, he received the Marquette University Alumni Association Merit Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement.

Coffey was appointed for life to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. The 1994 edition of The American Bench lists more than 50 important decisions that he authored as a U.S. Court of Appeals judge.

Coffey was married and had two children.

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