Home Accountant James M. Shellow, criminal defense attorney and masterful cross-examiner, dies at 95

James M. Shellow, criminal defense attorney and masterful cross-examiner, dies at 95


James M. Shellow, a criminal defense attorney renowned for his sharp cross-examinations and the pleasure he took in being a highly sought-after legal ace, including expensive wine and neat $100 bills, died on October 29 at his home in Milwaukee. He was 95 years old.

The cause was covid-19, her daughter Jill R. Shellow said.

In the courtrooms of Wisconsin, where he defended mob members, drug addicts and anyone else facing time in a cage – his description of incarceration – Mr Shellow was a legal legend and a mentor for criminal defense attorneys who revered his tenacious advocacy and 20-hour ability. working days.

“Jim was just at war with the universe,” said Dean Strang, one of his proteges. “He was the kind of guy who knocked the planet a few degrees off its axis – just a bold, irresistible human being. And he absolutely hated being deprived of freedom.

Although not as well known as Alan Dershowitz, F. Lee Bailey or Leslie Abramson, Mr. Shellow was frequently hired by attorneys across the country to cross-examine key witnesses, particularly in drug cases. , a topic on which he literally wrote the book – “Analyst’s Cross-Examination in Drug Prosecutions”.

“The cross-examination must implicate the personality of the witness,” he wrote in a legal journal. “He must give implausible or unreasonable answers. The jury must be encouraged by these answers to conclude that the witness is biased and untrustworthy and to infer that his opinions are unreliable. »

Mr. Shellow achieved this, Strang said, by getting prosecution witnesses to admit that they were either unqualified for their job or could not say for sure whether the drug in question – usually cocaine or heroin – was the chemical substance defined in the statute.

In one instance cited by Mr Shellow in describing his methods, he asked a prosecution witness to cite a single “recognized scientific treatise that said what you were doing was the right way to do it”.

“No, I can’t name a book,” the witness said.

“Can you name a book in any language, English, German, French, any language,” Shellow continued, “which is the proper methodology for analyzing cocaine? A treaty in any language?

“I can’t name a treaty,” replied the witness. “No sir.”

James Myers Shellow was born on October 31, 1926 in Milwaukee. His mother had a doctorate. in psychology and worked as a psychologist for the Milwaukee police. His father was a union accountant.

Mr. Shellow almost followed both of their career paths.

After graduating from the University of Chicago in 1949, he stayed and earned a master’s degree in psychology. There he dated another psychology student, Gilda Bloom, whom he married in 1950. Mr Shellow later worked as a systems engineer for Chance Vought, a manufacturer of military aircraft, and also became an expert -accounting. He found all of these experiences boring and unrewarding, so he went to law school, graduating from Marquette University in 1961.

Mr. Shellow’s first foray into criminal defense came during his third year at Marquette, when he read an article in Life magazine about a conspiracy trial involving Joseph Bonanno, Paul Castellano and several other high-profile members. of the mafia. The key piece of evidence on which they were convicted was a meeting the men held in upstate New York.

But Mr. Shellow, reading media coverage and later trial transcripts, noted that prosecutors had only presented evidence of a meeting, not that a conspiracy had been planned during it.

“Convinced that the argument was misplaced at trial, Shellow attempted to convince defense attorneys that they should press his case on appeal,” according to Wisconsin Lawyer magazine. “When his letters proved unconvincing, he took a train to New York and asked to meet with one of the attorneys.”

“After hearing Shellow’s spiel,” the magazine reported, “the attorney told him to enjoy the view and get home safely to Milwaukee.”

Mr. Shellow persisted. He took a train to Cleveland to speak with Osmond Frankel, a civil rights attorney working on the case.

“According to the story, after an hour, Frankel was convinced,” Wisconsin Lawyer magazine wrote. “He immediately called the other attorneys and they amended the appeal brief to reflect Shellow’s theory. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and all convictions were overturned. »

The criminal law defense consumed Mr. Shellow’s life, and not just by the sheer number of hours he billed. His wife became a criminal defense attorney and for years they practiced outside their home, where they raised two daughters who also became criminal defense attorneys.

Mr. Shellow reveled in his notoriety. Strang, a prominent criminal defense lawyer for Steven Avery whose murder trial was chronicled on Netflix’s hit show ‘Making a Murderer’, remembers the night Mr Shellow hired him.

“Let’s go have a good meal and get drunk,” Mr. Shellow told him.

Sitting at dinner, wine flowing, Strang said Mr Shellow predicted his success in the courtroom and outside: “You are going to drink too much. You are going to hunt women. And you’re going to be carrying $100 bills.

Mr Shellow’s daughter, Jill, said everything about her father’s tastes was true.

“My father didn’t quit until the day before he died,” she says. “He liked very good wine and he drank like a fish. And, frankly, he chased anything in a skirt.

In addition to his criminal defense work, Mr. Shellow has volunteered for fair housing and desegregation advocates, Vietnam War protesters and civil rights activists, including Father James E. Groppi, a priest Catholic imprisoned for contempt after a protest in the state of Wisconsin. House of Assembly. Lawyers from Mr. Shellow’s firm took the case to the United States Supreme Court and won.

Mr Shellow’s wife died in 2005 and their daughter Robin Shellow died last year. In addition to her daughter Jill, of Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, survivors include a brother and a grandson.

Strang, recalling Mr Shellow’s career, said his own life as a lawyer was not a complete copy of his mentor’s.

“I don’t drink that much,” he said. “I can barely handle a woman. But I carry a $100 bill in my wallet to this day. I will always have that $100 bill in my wallet to remember Jim Shellow.