Former justices

Justice William H. Timlin

Justice William H. Timlin

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice: 1907–1916
Life: 1852–1916

"His opinions disclose the man; they are logical, terse, clear, vigorous, and to the point. In some dissenting opinions the fire of combat glows—the spirit of the lawyer had not been wholly suppressed by the calm of the judicial mind." – P.H. Martin, Timlin's memorial service (1917)

William Henry Timlin was born May 28, 1852, in Mequon, Wisconsin. His parents were Irish immigrants. When Timlin was six years old, his mother died. At the outbreak of the Civil War his father entered the army and disappeared while fighting. Timlin was sent to live with relatives, themselves struggling amid hardships. He worked on their farm and received little formal schooling.

When Timlin was a teenager, his uncle died and Timlin had more years of hard labor, setbacks and discouragement. Despite the difficulties, Timlin found time for independent study. He took up surveying, school teaching and eventually stenography.

At 25, Timlin became the official stenographer of the Kewaunee County circuit court. In 1878, he was admitted to the bar and set up private law practice in Kewaunee County, where he also served as the superintendent of public schools.

Timlin later settled in Milwaukee and practiced law. His reputation as a successful and resourceful trial lawyer made him a promising candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Urged by his colleagues, he agreed to run in the election of 1906 and said: "No citizen has the right to refuse the obligation of public service when called upon."

Justice James C. Kerwin described Timlin as a "man of great wisdom, a scholar, pure in heart, patient, patriotic, impartial and courageous...[h]e was no phrase-maker, and never indulged in high-sounding platitudes for effect, but went straight to the point and avoided empty words."

Timlin and his wife Cecelia Arpin had four children. He died near the end of his Supreme Court term on August 21, 1916.

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