James M. Shellow dies: Criminal Defence Lawyer And Renowned Cross-Examiner, Dies At 95!

James M. Shellow dies: Milwaukee criminal defense attorney James M. Shellow, noted for his tough cross-examinations and the finer things in life (such as costly wine and crisp $100 notes), passed away on October 29 at his home. He was 95.

James M. Shellow dies: What Happened To Him?

Covid-19 is to blame, his daughter Jill R. Shellow stated.

Mr. Shellow was famous in the Wisconsin courtrooms where he defended mobsters, drug dealers, and anybody else facing “prison time,” as he called it. His fellow criminal defense lawyers looked up to him as a mentor because of his tenacious defense tactics and 20 years of experience.

Dean Strang, one of Jim’s students, remarked, “Jim was at war with the cosmos right now.” A courageous and fascinating individual, he was the type of person capable of shifting the balance of the world. Also, he despised being locked up very much indeed.

Who Was James M. Shellow?

NACDL - James M. Shellow

Mr. Shellow was not as well-known as Alan Dershowitz, F. Lee Bailey, or Leslie Abramson, but he was still frequently hired by attorneys across the country to cross-examine key witnesses, especially in drug cases (he literally wrote the book “Cross-Examination of the Analyst in Drug Prosecutions” on the topic).

He opined in a legal publication that “the cross-examination must impeach the character of the witness.” He’s cornered into providing explanations that sound too good to be true. Such responses should lead the jury to think that the witness is unreliable and biased and that they should disregard his testimony altogether.

Strang claims that Mr. Shellow was successful in this regard because he was able to persuade witnesses for the prosecution to testify that they lacked the expertise necessary for their positions or that they were unsure whether the drug in question (typically cocaine or heroin) was the chemical substance defined in the statute.

Mr. Shellow described one of his cases in which he had required a prosecution witness to provide merely one “known scientific document stating that what you were doing was the appropriate way to accomplish it.”

The witness replied, “No, I can’t name a book.”

Mr. Shellow persisted: “Can you name a book in any language, English, German, French, any language at all, that is the acceptable approach to studying cocaine?” Any language treatise?”

The witness responded, “I cannot name any paper.” “No sir.”

On October 31, 1926, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, James Myers Shellow entered the world. His mom was a psychologist for the Milwaukee Police Department, and she had a doctorate in psychology. His dad worked for the union as an accountant.

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Mr. Shellow was quite close to adopting both of their professions.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Chicago in 1949 and then went there to earn a master’s. There, in 1950, he married Gilda Bloom, a student of psychology.

Later, Mr. Shellow earned his CPA license and worked as a systems engineer for the military aircraft firm Chance Vought. All of these things were dull and unfulfilling for him, so in 1961 he enrolled at Marquette University School of Law.

After reading a Life magazine article about a conspiracy trial involving Joseph Bonanno, Paul Castellano, and numerous other infamous mafia members, Mr. Shellow decided to pursue a career in criminal defense during his third year at Marquette. The men’s upstate New York encounter served as the primary basis for their conviction.

According to Mr. Shellow’s analysis of the reports and, later, the transcripts of the proceedings, the prosecution had merely produced proof of a meeting, not that a conspiracy was hatched during it.

“Convinced that the arguments at trial were inadequately articulated, Shellow tried to encourage defense attorneys to enforce his arguments on appeal,” wrote the editors of Wisconsin Lawyer magazine. After realizing that letters weren’t going to cut it, he boarded a train to New York and sought out a meeting with an attorney there.

According to the magazine, after listening to Shellow’s ranting, the lawyer wished him a pleasant trip and advised him to drive carefully back to Milwaukee.

Mr. Shellow was adamant. In order to consult with civil rights lawyer Osmond Frankel, he boarded a train to Cleveland.

Frankel “was convinced after an hour,” the Wisconsin Lawyer magazine reported. As soon as he heard Shellow’s notion, he contacted the other lawyers and had the appeal brief revised to include it. The second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concurred so all convictions were overturned.

Mr. Shellow’s life was absorbed by criminal defense law, and it wasn’t just the number of hours he billed. His wife went to law school and they had a successful home-based practice for many years, during which time they raised two daughters who followed in their legal footsteps.

Mr. Shellow was quite proud of his widespread renown. The night Mr. Shellow retained Strang, a notable criminal defense attorney, Steven Avery’s murder trial was documented on the hit Netflix show Making a Murderer.

Mr. Shellow invited him to a dinner party and suggested they drink heavily afterward. Mr. Shellow, Strang claimed, told him this when they sat down to dinner together, wine in hand: “You’re going to drink too much. A woman-hunting career awaits you. And you’ll be toting about $100 dollars.

Jill, Mr. Shellow’s daughter, claimed that her father’s taste in everything was spot on. She revealed, “My dad finally kicked the habit the day he passed away.” He was a big fan of fine vino and drank it like water. To be honest, he was after any woman who wore a skirt.

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Aside from his paid work as a criminal defense attorney, Mr. Shellow also volunteered his time to represent people who were fighting for fair housing and desegregation, protesting the Vietnam War, and fighting for civil rights.

One such person was Father James E. Groppi, a Catholic priest who was arrested after a protest in Wisconsin because he ignored the meeting space’s restrictions. Lawyers from Mr. Shellow’s firm appealed to the United States Supreme Court, where they were ultimately successful.

Robin Shellow, Mr. Shellow’s daughter, passed away in 2016. In addition to his daughter, Jill, of Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, survivors include a brother and grandson. Recalling Mr. Shellow’s career, Strang said his own life as a lawyer was not a complete copy of his mentor’s life.

I don’t drink that much,” he added. I’m so weak that I can hardly manage a woman. And to this day, I never leave home without a crisp $100 dollar in my wallet. I will always have this $100 bill in my wallet to commemorate Jim Shellow.”

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