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William Joseph Campbell

When he was named to the federal bench at age thirty-five in 1940, William J. Campbell was the youngest judge ever appointed; at the time of his death, he was the longest-tenured federal judge in the United States, with almost fifty years of service to his credit.

William Joseph Campbell was born in Chicago on March 19, 1905. The son of a Scottish wool merchant, he grew up in a middle-class neighborhood on the city's west side. There, he attended St. Rita High School and St. Rita College. After graduation, he worked as an insurance claims adjuster while enrolled in a night program at Chicago's Loyola University law school. Campbell earned his doctor of JURISPRUDENCE degree in 1926 and was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1927. He returned to Loyola in 1928 to complete a master of laws degree.

Shortly after passing the bar in 1927, Campbell partnered with a longtime friend to open the law firm of Campbell and Burns. The new firm's first major client, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, would have a profound influence on Campbell's professional life, introducing him to the world of Chicago Democratic politics.


With the help of church leaders and prominent Chicago Catholics, Campbell formed the Young Democrats for Roosevelt in 1932, when FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT was governor of New York and a presidential hopeful. The powerful Chicago Democratic political machine shunned Roosevelt and used its power to thwart Roosevelt's efforts to secure permits for his campaign events. Undaunted, Campbell put a bishop in front of a Catholic Youth Organization band and had them march through the streets of Chicago in an "illegal parade" that brought considerable attention to the candidate. Years later, Campbell said, "Naturally, when all those Irish policemen saw the bishop, they weren't about to do anything but say hello and salute."

After Roosevelt's election, Campbell continued to be an outsider in Chicago Democratic politics, but he had clearly earned Roosevelt's attention and admiration. In 1935 Campbell was named Illinois administrator for the president's National Youth Administration.

In 1938 Campbell was named U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Appointed by Roosevelt to fight the Chicago Democratic political machine, Campbell made the most of the job. As a young federal prosecutor, he crossed paths with many of the city's more colorful citizens, including notorious gangster AL CAPONE, and he continually challenged the city's political leaders and their system of influence.

Two years later, in an effort to appease those leaders during an election year, Roosevelt removed Campbell as prosecutor—and appointed him to a federal judgeship. "I got kicked upstairs," Campbell said. "[Roosevelt] needed the machine for the election." Campbell was appointed U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Illinois on October 10, 1940, and he began his long judicial career on October 22.

As a prosecutor, Campbell had been part of the team that convicted Capone of TAX EVASION; in his early years as a judge, he supervised Capone's PAROLE."I insisted that … he never set foot in Cook County [Illinois], and he agreed to it," said Campbell. "I also insisted that he pay every last nickel in taxes he owed the government." Capone protested by paying his millions of dollars in back taxes in pennies. Though a Chicago bank actually counted and verified the amount in a day, Campbell initially threatened to do the job himself, one penny at a time—and to make Capone sit in jail until he had finished.

Only two years into his federal judgeship, Campbell conducted one of the few TREASON trials ever held in the United States (United States v. Haupt, 47 F. Supp. 832 [N.D. Ill. 1942], opinion supplemented by 47 F. Supp. 836 [N.D. Ill. 1942]). He sentenced three men to death after they had been convicted in a Nazi plot to poison Chicago's water supply. "We had to blaze a trail" in that case, he said, because there were no statutes governing such matters. Campbell said the only guidelines available were in the U.S. Constitution. Though an appellate court later overturned the death sentences (United States v. Haupt, 136 F.2d 661 [7th Cir. 1943]), Campbell often called the case a highlight of his career.

Campbell was named chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Chicago on April 6, 1959. In his years on the federal bench, he earned a reputation as an innovative, courageous, and practical jurist. Fellow U.S. district judge James C. Paine said Campbell was "the kind of judge each of us would like to be."

When asked to hear politically charged Illinois reapportionment cases in the late 1950s, Campbell called a historic joint session between the federal court and the Illinois Supreme Court to resolve the issues. Even though the state legislature had been unwilling or unable to act, Campbell's unique team was able to reapportion Illinois's state and federal legislative districts to the satisfaction of most parties.

In the early 1960s, Campbell summoned a group of private attorneys to a luncheon. There, he pointed out the financial benefit they were realizing from U.S. BANKRUPTCY court case assignments. He asked the group to return the favor by contributing money so that the city might provide lawyers for indigent defendants. They did. "A word from the chief judge went a long way," said HUBERT WILL, another federal district judge in Chicago. Campbell also had a knack for appropriating money for the federal judiciary. Owing in large part to his efforts, the budget for the judiciary between 1960 and 1970 increased from $51 million to $117 million.

Chicago's federal defender program, resulting from Campbell's luncheon and gentle arm-twisting, was launched in 1965. It became a model for the nation long before programs offering free representation for indigent clients accused of committing federal crimes were mandated and funded by Congress. Also in 1965, Campbell set up an internship program for law school students. A novel idea in 1965, it is now commonplace.

Campbell was equally committed to the continuing professional education of judges and supporting personnel. He was a force in the establishment of the FEDERAL JUDICIAL CENTER, which is the federal courts' agency for research and continuing education. It was established by statute in 1967 as a separate organization within the federal judicial system (28 U.S.C.A. 620-629). Through the Federal Judicial Center, Campbell participated in hundreds of seminars and workshops in all parts of the United States in order to give new district judges, magistrates, bankruptcy judges, clerks of court, PROBATION officers, and other judicial personnel the benefit of his wisdom and experience.

Campbell served as First District judge representative of the Seventh Circuit on the JUDICIAL CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED STATES (1958–1962); member of the Committee on Pretrial and Protracted Case Procedures (1941–1960); and chairman of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Budget (1960–1970). He was the author of numerous publications, including the first manual on protracted case procedures. Among the many honors accorded him were degrees from Loyola University (doctor of laws, 1955), Lincoln College (doctor of laws, 1960), Duquesne College (doctor of letters, 1965), and Barat College (doctor of CANON LAW, 1966).

Twice during Campbell's first thirty years as a federal judge, he turned down an offer to sit on an appellate court as well as an offer to return to a lucrative private law practice. The appellate court was, for him, too far removed from the daily hustle of trial court.

When Supreme Court justice FELIX FRANKFURTER died in 1965, many thought Campbell was certain to be appointed to the Court by President LYNDON B. JOHNSON. But Johnson chose ABE FORTAS, who resigned under pressure four years later. When asked about the missed opportunity many years later, Campbell said, "Although I knew Johnson intimately and personally, he was bigoted enough not to want two Catholics on the Supreme Court." Justice WILLIAM J. BRENNAN JR. was the one Catholic already on the Court.

Campbell spent little time lamenting the lost Supreme Court nomination. Late in 1965, he decided to take on Chicago syndicate kingpin Sam Giancana. When Giancana was asked to testify before a Chicago GRAND JURY, he invoked his FIFTH AMENDMENT right to remain silent. Campbell did something never done before: he gave Giancana IMMUNITY from prosecution and ordered him to testify. After Giancana refused, he spent the next year in jail on CONTEMPT charges.

In spite of his toughness on ORGANIZED CRIME and career criminals, Campbell showed compassion for men who refused to fight in the nation's wars. When handing out sentences for draft cases during WORLD WAR II and the VIETNAM WAR, he often ordered the defendants to perform community service. He did not see draft evaders as criminals and refused to treat them as such.

Campbell became a senior judge on March 19, 1970, his sixty-fifth birthday. Though he was eligible to retire with full pay for the rest of his life, he could not accept the thought of leaving the workforce. As a senior judge, he heard cases first in Chicago, and then in the Southern District of Florida, following a move to West Palm Beach in the mid-1970s. In his last years, he devoted his time to writing opinions for the

Chicago-based U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He traveled to Chicago from West Palm Beach twice a year to sit on cases there.

Campbell, who was seen pushing a wheelchair full of legal briefs and court opinions into his chambers well into his eighty-second year, died on October 19, 1988, in West Palm Beach, at the age of eighty-three.

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