7th Circuit Judge Richard Cudahy dies at 89

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Judge Richard Cudahy

Judge Richard Dickson Cudahy.

Judge Richard Dickson Cudahy of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals died of natural causes at his Winnetka, Illinois, home on Tuesday, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. He was 89.

Cudahy was elevated to the appeals court in 1979 by former President Jimmy Carter and served 36 years—15 of those with active status. In a statement (PDF) announcing Cudahy’s death, the 7th Circuit said he was an “unusually productive judge, penning opinions at a high rate that were frequently cited by other judges—a sign of influence.”

Former law clerk Kate Swift, now a partner at Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott in Chicago, told the ABA Journal that Cudahy was “a very old-fashioned gentleman, a very old-fashioned liberal,” bright and funny. And, she said, he was “remarkably open-minded” as a jurist.

“He, I think, was known for being a liberal—but I think more than that, he wasn’t dogmatic,” says Swift, a former assistant managing editor of the ABA Journal.

Swift’s son was born two weeks after she was supposed to start her clerkship, but Cudahy “didn’t bat an eye” when she asked to start late, she recalls.

Another former clerk, Kathryn Walter, recalls Cudahy as “an incredibly thoughtful man” who loved to discuss cases with his clerks. He would invite all of his clerks into his office, she says, to discuss “these mountains of briefs” from the litigants.

“He would have read every one of those briefs, every one of them, and he would remember every one of those details and arguments” despite being in his early eighties at the time, says Walter, now in-house at Edward Jones Investments.

Cudahy was born in 1926 in Milwaukee, the grandson of local meatpacking entrepreneur Patrick Cudahy. He graduated from West Point and served in the U.S. Air Force before law school. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1951, clerked at the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City and worked as a lawyer for the U.S. Department of State.

Cudahy then moved to Chicago to start a private practice, but interrupted it in 1961 to run the family’s business, Patrick Cudahy Inc. He served as president and CEO for a decade, the Journal-Sentinel says, though he taught law on the side at the University of Wisconsin and Marquette University. He also chaired the Wisconsin Democratic Party from 1967-1968 and ran for the state’s Attorney General seat in 1968.

Cudahy returned to private practice in Wisconsin in 1972, but moved to Washington, D.C., three years later. He was practicing in that city with the Chicago-based law firm of Isham, Lincoln & Beale when Carter nominated him to the 7th Circuit.

He took senior status in 1994, but kept taking cases until his death because of court vacancies, the Journal-Sentinel says. Collins Fitzpatrick, executive director of the 7th Circuit, told the newspaper that Cudahy continued working from home until his death.

Cudahy also served for a period of time as a liaison from the ABA Section of Public Utility, Communications and Transportation Law to the ABA Journal.

Cudahy is survived by his wife, Janet, and seven children: Richard Jr., Dan, Patrick, Kit, Tia, Michaela and Molly.

Updated at 5:18 p.m. to include quote from Kathryn Walter.

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